The book alternates between two story lines, one modern day, and one that starts back in the 1930s. In the present day, Sookie is a middle-aged lady with an identity crisis, ever since she accidentally discovered some adoption papers that throw into question her esteemed Southern lineage. The other storyline starts as America becomes involved in WWII, and shows Fritzi and her sisters doing their bit for the war effort by signing up to become 'WASPS' (the equivalent of the UK's ATA, Air Transport Auxiliary), ferrying planes around the US to free-up male service personnel for combat.
Halfway through, I had a small issue, in that older female characters are often portrayed as comic, or tragic. Apparently that's all that's left for a woman once she's reached a certain 'sexless' age. Sookie is a bit of a comic-tragic character to start off with, and I thought that this book wouldn't get past the stereotype - how wrong I was. The main characters are drawn with complexities that make them seem very real (apart from maybe Marvaleen?!), and by the end of the book, Sookie had 'grown', and I felt a sense of real celebration of the achievements of American women during WWII.
I've noticed in reading lots of other reviews, not just of this book but of others by many different authors, that there's been a bit of a backlash against the kind of character that Sookie starts off being, the older woman who is a pushover and is perceived by readers as 'weak'. I wonder if that's because we now have these expectations that women should all be 'strong' and if you're not strong then obviously there's something wrong with you, as if every woman should be out there stamping on their male colleagues in their Louboutins to get to the top of their career, whilst simultaneously raising children, being an excellent chef, and keeping their home in interior design magazine shape. Apparently the skill of keeping everyone happy and putting the needs of your family before your own is not considered a virtue and doesn't require any strength at all. Anyway, I digress!
Flagg's style makes this an easy read that you'll whip through in no time. I found the ending very touching and heartfelt, and if you can get past that possible initial aversion to Sookie's character (and that of her mother), then you'll be rewarded with a tale of heroism that will fill you with pride.
The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is out now by Random House, and available on Amazon here. I was sent a copy of the book for review, but as always, views are my own!