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Leaving Earth: A Novel Hardcover – September, 1998


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Amazon.com Review

"The plane slips from a spool of blue, stitches a confident loop in the sky. Willa stands by the hangar as the Moth roars above her head, growl of open throttle. The single figure in the rear cockpit waves as the plane flies low over the harbor airfield and then pulls up into a vertical climb. Up and up, the line so straight it could have been drawn with a ruler, could have been a harp string, the plane a note ascending."

Grace O'Gorman, the star-bright aviatrix of Helen Humphreys's debut novel, Leaving Earth, adores her Moth--a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane. It's the 1930s, and together they have wowed the world with stunts, solo long-distance flights, and other record-breaking trips. Glamorous "Air Ace" Grace feels most at home aloft, as opposed to down on Earth, in Toronto, with her husband. That, along with her competitiveness and affinity for fame, is why she's setting out to break the world flight endurance record. She teams up with a young female flyer, Willa Briggs, to circle Toronto for 25 days in August 1933.

In a spare yet warm style, Humphreys unfurls the pair's airborne life. She conjures the physical miseries it inflicts on the body--brought on by rain, cramped space, exhaustion--and makes the subtleties of that exhaustion clear as a cloudless sky. But beyond descriptions of physical discomfort is the emotional distress and elation Willa goes through, to which the author gives exquisite nuance. There's loneliness that forces introspection, yet joy washes over Willa, too--joy for a stripped-down life in the sky with Grace, with whom she is falling in love. Over the roar of the wind Grace and Willa develop a poetic sign language. Around this and around the experience of the sky, Humphreys winds Willa's highs and lows.

Following the Moth's flight is 11-year-old Maddy, whose father and Jewish mother work at a fading amusement park on the Toronto Islands. Maddy worships Grace and so naturally spends her August days tracking the circling biplane. Meanwhile her parents worry about work in the face of the depression and watch a growing anti-Semitism invade their home. From the earth and the sky Humphreys shapes a keen story about human frailty and potential, set when aviation was all about glamour, and World War II not so far away. Here, fear spreads and intimacy blooms. --Katherine Alberg

From Publishers Weekly

Toronto in 1933 provides the setting for this captivating first novel about two aviatrixes who attempt to set a new world endurance record by flying 25 days nonstop, circling the city in the open cockpit of their Moth biplane. Veteran barnstormer "Air Ace" Grace O'Gorman chooses novice Willa Briggs as a last-minute replacement for her ailing co-pilot. As days pass, mechanical failures, nasty weather and chronic fatigue threaten to curtail the flight, while the two pilots, hoarse from yelling over the roar of the wind, become close friends, communicating through sign and touch. Meanwhile, in a parallel earthbound plot, young Maddy Stewart, who idolizes Air Ace Grace, struggles to maintain her equilibrium when her Jewish mother, a carnival fortune-teller, becomes the target of a Nazi-inspired hate group. The two plots intersect when Maddy pulls the fliers from their beached aircraft. Inspired by an actual event that occurred in the skies over Miami, Fla., Humphreys has captured the courage and commitment of aviation's unsung pioneers, the sights and sounds of earth and sky and the somber mood of 1930s Toronto, all with a precise lyricism that amply demonstrates her talent as a poet. (Sept.) FYI: Humphreys has received the Governor's General Prize for her poetry, and the Vancouver Sun named her Best Young Canadian Novelist in 1997.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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"The Evening Chorus" by Helen Humphreys
From a writer of delicate and incandescent prose, "The Evening Chorus" offers a beautiful, spare examination of the natural world and the human heart. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st American ed edition (September 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805059571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805059571
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,158,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "blissengine" on January 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
In August 1933, the famous aviatrix Grace O'Gorman recruits the inexperienced Willa Briggs to accompany her in breaking the world flight endurance record. While circling Toronto, the women must deal with fatigue, the weather, and the sabotaging efforts of Grace's husband. Meanwhile, on the ground, anti-Semitism erupts and affects some of those connected with the women. Unable to communicate with words in the sky, Grace and Willa find new ways of communicating that change their views of the world, and Willa, with this new awareness, finds her feelings for Grace becoming more complicated. "Leaving Earth" is a magical and adventurous story, based on some true events, about women challenging the often-stifling roles of the 1930s. The book glimmers and comes alive, showcasing Humphrey's lush style in her first novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mumbaiwallah on October 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
'Leaving Earth' by Helen Humphreys is an engaging story of two women aviators from the 1930s in Canada. It's a tale of two women Air Ace Grace O'Gorman and Willa Briggs defying convention and other odds, taking to the skies in their Moth for an endurance test to break the record of non-stop flight of 25 days. The book captures the exhilaration of flight itself and reminded me of the reasons why I love flying so much. The story moves with the pilots circling endlessly over Toronto Bay, inventing a new sign language to communicate when their paper and pencil flies away in a storm. It tells us of Maddy, a 12 year old girl who idolizes them and who would trade in her own mother for Air Ace Grace, not least because Maddy fears the prejudice against her mother's Jewishness as Canadian anti-Semitism gathers momentum.

A lovely book, very evocative and draws us into the flight with a profound sense of aviation and a passion for leaving earth. Recommended reading for anyone who loves the thrill of taking off and staying in the air. Never mind Jet lag.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I liked everything about this book. It is like a strange dream you have one night and wake up not knowing how things are really going to turn out. If you like books you can feel and smell, you will like this great little read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 26, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a lovely book. Grace and Willa learn how to deal with discomfort in order to break the distance record. They learn that they do not have to speak in order to communicate. Maddy is a young girl at the age where girls fall in love with "stars" and she falls in love with Grace. this novel is about women and their connection to other women. It tells how women are able to adapt to any situation and work to make the best of it. It is the connection, that Grace and Willa learn that they cannot live without. I wanted more and Helen Humphreys leaves the reader wanting more.
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