“There was a time when flying didn’t mean looking over my shoulder for death coming at me.”
Sparrow Squadron by D.L. Jung
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Action-Adventure
Release Date: February 2018 by Xinlishi Press
World War II. June 1941. Hitler’s war machine turns to the Soviet Union.
Escaping her hometown ahead of the Nazis, 16-year-old Aelya Makarova seizes a chance to live her dream. Obsessed with flying, she joins a women’s fighter squadron to defend her homeland against the invaders. She’ll go faster and higher than she’s ever gone before.
But the harsh reality of Air Force life shatters her expectations and forces her to grow up fast. The squadron is split by petty rivalries, male pilots treat them like a joke, and the ideal country she thought she was fighting for doesn’t really exist.
Finally given a chance to prove herself in battle, Aelya is pushed to breaking point. With all her talent, the help of her comrades, and a lot of luck, she might just make it through. But will there be anything left of her humanity?
With fast-paced action and a heart-rending mix of humour and tragedy, Sparrow Squadron is an adventure novel for young adults that brings an overlooked episode of history to life.
Aelya leaned back and focused on connecting the scenery below with what was on her maps. Flat, grassy terrain, cut with many rivers stretching to every horizon. She hated being a passenger, but that couldn’t stop her from taking in all that she loved about flying: shadows cast by intermittent clouds distorting the landscape, the sway of the plane, the thrum of the engine.
Stitches was right; it required the utmost concentration not to get lost under these calm conditions, let alone during combat. Far off, dark clouds of smoke marked the one unmistakable feature: the ruined city of Stalingrad.
“So what’s your background?” Stitches asked. “When did you decide to fly?”
“I’m supposed to be watching the landscape.”
“I’m testing you. A good pilot pays attention to multiple things at once.” He laughed.
“Now you’re interested in my story? I thought I didn’t have enough missions.”
He turned his face so she could see his strained smile. “Much as I hate to admit it, I saw enough during that interception. You’re not without skill.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Was he telling her to be proud of herself? That was patronizing. The more she thought about it, the worse her performance had seemed.
“I don’t doubt your ability,” Stitches continued, “but combat’s not just about being good. Only luck will determine when you go out. Whether you get shot down next week or make it through this war without a scratch, the odds are the same.”
He seemed happy to hear himself talk. Stitches was a veteran. With four confirmed kills, he was almost an ace. She shifted to the edge of her seat, gripped with the urge to take advantage of this moment of openness.
“I probably could have done better.” A lot better. “Any suggestions?”
“It’s impossible to know what’s going on with so many planes in the air. Half the time I have no clue what anyone else is doing. To be honest, I have no idea how well you did, but that you dived into a swarm of Junkers and came out all right speaks well of you.”
“Wait . . . you saw enough to confirm I damaged one, right?”
“Caught me in a lie, I’m afraid.”
She slapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t need your pity.”
“It’s not pity.” He lowered his voice, and she strained to hear him over the canopy rattling against the wind. “It’s what we do for each other. Everyone plays up their numbers. Damaged planes don’t count for anything anyway, just kills. If you added up all the planes we say we shoot up each month, it would be more than all the planes in Europe.”
She had to calm down. Although it seemed patronizing, she realized that Stitches’s little lie meant she was one of the group. In some small way, she belonged.
“To be honest,” she said, “I barely hit anything before using up my ammo. Any ideas how to get better?”
“Thanks, that’s very helpful. Doesn’t matter—I’m a crack shot in practice.”
“Do you hit the towed targets every time?”
“When you fire in combat, do your tracers always fall behind the target?”
“How did you know?”
Stitches chuckled. “This happens to a lot of greenies. When you practise, you’re tracking the plane towing the target and not the target itself, aren’t you? That messes up your range. You fire too early and don’t lead your target enough. Wait until you’re close enough to see the rivets in the enemy plane—then fire.”
“But if I wait to get that close, won’t they have a chance to hit me?”
“Not if you get your positioning right. That’s the difference between an ace and a dead man. Positioning. And luck.”
Suddenly it was all making sense, although it didn’t explain why Roza or Tonya had no issues hitting their targets.
“So it’s not some sort of mental block? I thought I was going mad,” she said.
“It doesn’t hurt to be mad in this line of work.”
DL Jung has been an enthusiastic student of history since grade school, when he spent lazy afternoons flipping through an old Encyclopedia Britannica set. He enjoys blogging about history and writing historical fiction. He also writes fantasy and horror fiction as Darius Jung.
Jung is married, with two children, and lives in Toronto, Canada. They are lucky enough to spend part of the time in New Zealand. Outside of writing, he has tried stints as an industrial engineer, a film and TV script supervisor, an IT consultant, a professional game show contestant, and a grossly under-qualified business wear model. Sparrow Squadron is his debut novel.
The Historical Inspiration for Sparrow Squadron
Soviet Women in Combat in WWII
As a source of stories and ideas, is there anything that can compare to World War II? Yet as much as has already been mined by pop culture, there still seem to be limitless supplies of new and compelling stories that cry for wider exposure. At the same time, we’re at a moment now when the role of women in the war is being reexamined.
Unlike other countries during WWII, the Soviet Union officially allowed women to participate in combat. This was partly due to its stated ideals of equality and partly due to desperation as the Nazi invasion soaked up manpower. In all, 800,000 women served in the Soviet armed forces during the war.
Women often had to make sacrifices over and above the men. Beyond the brutal conditions at the front, they were in danger of sexual misconduct and assault from their own side. And their struggle continued after the war, as many were shunned in society, labelled as “unwomanly,” “homewreckers” and “whores.” They were even denied the right to march in the victory parade.
Thankfully, hardworking historians have cut through decades of censorship and denial to bring more and more of their heroic stories to light. Notable female combatants included Alexandra Samusenko, who led an entire tank battalion, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who recorded 309 sniper kills, and Lily Litvyak, the highest scoring female ace of all time and model for one of the main characters in Sparrow Squadron.
Thank you to YA Bound Book Tours and the author for the insightful guest post and for the chance of winning Sparrow Squadron! You can find the full tour schedule here