Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon

Young Adult - Coming of Age
292 Pages
Reviewed on 06/07/2022
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Author Biography

D.M. Mahoney has always been an ardent lover of birds. After learning about the demise of the passenger pigeons, she felt it to be a story that must be told and remembered. Mahoney spent most of her career writing for the aviation industry and became a certified private pilot while living in Oregon, where she earned a fixed-wing aircraft rating and then a helicopter rating, She took a hiatus from aviation to earn a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University and to complete her debut novel, Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Frances Deborah Kerr-Phillips for Readers' Favorite

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon by D.M. Mahoney is an absolute gem that will have you hooked from the moment you delve into this poignant and powerful novel. In Oregon in the early 1940s, being female, half-Jewish, as well as being a teenage pilot with aspirations to fly for the US air force, Frances Finkel has the odds stacked against her. Her journey of dogged perseverance to achieving her goals set against the diverse backdrops of Pearl Harbour and the beauty of the Oregon coastline has the reader captivated. Mahoney has created a heady mixture of a coming-of-age novel and a work of historical fiction regarding women’s rights as well as the fascinating role of pigeons in the World War II US war effort.

The very title of Mahoney’s novel -- Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon -- had me intrigued: the alliteration in the title, the uncommon names, as well curiosity about what a passenger pigeon was, had me reaching for the book. I was not disappointed. Mahoney writes with a sensitivity that makes her characters seem to come alive. The wonder and exuberance of flying in the airplanes at the time her novel is set are almost tangible. The descriptions of flying over the Oregon countryside convey the author’s love for the area, lending further authenticity to her writing. I couldn’t put it down, yet I didn’t want it to end. D.M. Mahoney’s debut novel is a triumph! Read it – you’re in for a treat.

Stacie Haas

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon by D.M. Mahoney is the story of young Fran Finkel, the daughter of a World War One pilot, and her rare passenger pigeon, Easter. Fran grows up in her father’s airplane hangar and, despite being a girl, becomes an airplane mechanic and flies with her twin brother, Danny. Together they do test flights after maintenance is complete or take time to fly to the Oregon coast to relax. It was after one of those flights that her twin is killed in an accident. Danny’s death immediately changes the family forever. Their mother leaves and Fran is left to care for both her father and her younger brother, Seamus. In December 1941, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Fran and her father immediately begin training young boys to fly so they can enlist, but soon it’s not enough for Fran. Imminently more qualified than those boys, Fran longs to fly for the army despite her gender. As the call to serve grows louder, Fran seeks solace in the sky and lands in a remote area. There she rescues a bird from an attack by ravens. She names the pigeon Easter and he becomes her companion, accompanying Fran on flights. His extraordinary abilities come to light almost immediately. No matter where Fran flies with Easter, the bird can fly himself back to the Finkel family home and carry a message to boot. With Easter by her side, Fran finally decides to follow her heart and join other female pilots who have been pressed into ferrying warplanes across the country. The only question that remains is whether Fran is prepared to handle what comes when she finally gets her wish.

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon flew right into my heart—it’s an amazing story that is told beautifully by D.M. Mahoney. It’s an excellent piece of historical fiction combining two pieces of American history—the existence of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the pigeoneer initiative of the U.S. Army. Mahoney explains both in her Author’s Note at the end of the book. I will admit that I love historical fiction as well as aviation, so this book really hit the mark with me. However, Frances Fickel and the Passenger Pigeon has broader appeal than only that. It’s a story about family and friendship, racism and evil, love and war, and even includes a touch of romantic love. And, of course, the fascinating story of passenger pigeons and their impact on the war and life. The world is surely missing out on these amazing birds. I highly recommend this book to all readers.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Everyone has a purpose in life, a dream to follow. D.M. Mahoney uses this as the theme for Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon. Some people find their purpose and their dreams in the sky. That’s what happened to Frances Finkel (Fran). Working as a mechanic for her father at an airport in Oregon, she develops a passion for flying. Once she’s in the sky, she feels free like the birds. It’s the 1940s and the men are enlisting. Fran wants to join the army’s air corps, but women continue to be discouraged from this role. She’s not about to give up on her dream. After rescuing an injured pigeon and training it to deliver messages, she learns there’s a real need for what is known as pigeoneers – those who train pigeons to fly with pilots and, if the plane goes down, deliver messages to help rescuers find the downed plane. They’re also used in army tanks and battleships, a clever means of delivering messages without the enemy knowing and much better and more secure than contemporary methods of communication. Flying aircraft for the air corps, interacting with pigeoneers, and searching for her mother become Fran’s prime objectives at a time when the world is wracked by war.

D.M. Mahoney’s historical YA novel, Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon, explores one of the lesser-known military activities of World War II, the pigeoneers. The plot is much more than a historical exploration; it’s a coming-of-age story in a different era, the pursuit of dreams and the courage to work toward the dreams despite the obstacles in one’s path - a story of valiant honor in the face of adversity. The story follows one young girl, Fran, who dreams of fighting in the air at a time when women were only considered for non-combat roles. It takes the reader on a journey as the girl matures, overcomes loss and heartache, finds love and adventure, and always returns to the loving embrace of family. Fran soars to great heights to achieve her dream. This is an inspirational story for young adults of all ages, as well as an educational one.

Kristine Zimmerman

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon by D.M. Mahoney is a celebratory coming-of-age story set in the 1940s. Frances Finkel has grown up around airplanes and her father's mechanic shop in Oregon. She and her twin brother Danny have put in hours of flying and they are both pilots. Tragedy strikes her family as they lose both her twin and her mother for different reasons. Frances was left with her father to help raise her younger brother Seamus. She yearns to be a military pilot, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to fly for the military. Then a series of events change Frances's life in ways she had only dreamed about.

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon shares the lesser-known history of women pilots and their contribution during World War II. I found the story and exploits of the pigeons that carried messages back from the front lines to be fascinating. D.M. Mahoney's experience as a pilot shines through in her descriptions of flight. I had chills as she related Frances's experience of flying her small plane as fourteen large bombers suddenly appeared over her head. Mahoney's characters are engaging and believable. Frances matures and grows throughout the story as she deals with love, loss, and the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field. This is a well-written novel that will encourage young women to pursue their dreams. If they believe in themselves, the sky is the limit!

Rabia Tanveer

Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon by D.M. Mahoney is set in the 1940s, and our protagonist dreams of flying. The moment Frances Finkel piloted a plane for the first time, she knew she was meant to be flying the skies. By the time she was 17 years old, she was already a skilled pilot, worked as a mechanic at her father’s shop at an airport, and took care of her younger brother Seamus. Her dream of joining the Army Air Force wasn’t meant to be, but that didn’t mean Fran wouldn't try to serve her country. The moment she turned 18, Fran joined a secret military project for women to ferry planes from factories to airbases. Living her dream, Fran achieved everything she wished for and a lot more.

Empowering and powerful, Frances Finkel and the Passenger Pigeon was the first historical coming of age story I have ever read. Fran’s story was incredibly rich, entertaining, and so good. It was filled with hope, passion, and fighting for what you believe in. I loved Easter. That little pigeon had a better relationship with Fran than most people did in real life. The sense of belonging Fran got from the female pilot community made her feel empowered and determined to do better and become better. Author D.M. Mahoney highlighted an often-forgotten aspect of World War II. While most literature on the war focuses on the triumphs of men at war, it doesn’t talk about the role of women. I had no idea female pilots played such a vital role. I loved looking at things from Fran’s perspective. Everything had a new meaning, the sky looked different, the air felt different, and even responsibilities felt different. I felt as if I knew Fran as a longtime friend, and I was rejoining her on a new adventure. Kudos to the author for a marvelous job!

Carol Wong

Great review for a book that I loved!