Sara Ackerman’s Radar Girls is the Hawaii based historical fiction novel you’ve been waiting for, and it does not disappoint. With amazing character development, a nail-biting plot, and incredible details, this novel sweeps you back in time and claims your attention to the final sentence.
The characters and setting are both the beating heart of this novel, with the setting practically becoming a character unto itself. Daisy Wilder has never felt like she fits in, as she prefers wearing pants and training horses to skirts and lipstick. She spends most of her time working and diving for fish to support her widowed mother, and still feels the tide of grief over losing her father. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Daisy is out diving for fish when Japanese forces attack Pearl Harbor.
In the aftermath of the attack, Daisy is recruited into a top secret program, interpreting radar and tracking vessels for the U.S. military. As Daisy learns technical equations and codes, she also gets to know the other women in the program. From jealous squabbles to finding true friendship, Daisy is tested in ways she never knew possible.
Daisy and her fellow recruits are incredibly well developed, each individualized with unique backstories, motivations, attitudes, flaws and proficiencies. From optimistic Fluff to endeavoring Betty to persistent Lei, each character is relatable, lovable, and incredibly realistic. They’re the kinds of characters that you miss once you’ve closed the cover, the kind you want to return to again and again.
WWII era Hawaii is not a setting I’ve seen in other second world war fiction novels, and it became a character unto itself. From the vivid imagery to the unique terrain, the setting showed how Hawaii can be just as quick changing as the tides of war. Needless to say, it definitely made me want to visit Hawaii in the here and now, and yet also made me feel as though as I was really there, lizards and mosquitoes and all.
As with all war-set novels, the plot is nail-biting and intense at times. But it isn’t gratuitously violent, nor does it try to manipulate your emotions. It strikes just the right balance of realistic, showing the intense moments interspersed with the ways people found joy and happiness in between air raids.
The details are truly what set this novel apart. From technical details about radar that I never could have known to full on historical events I hadn’t heard of (and I am definitely a history buff and consider myself quite knowledgable about this era and arena; my grandfather was a WWII veteran stationed in the Pacific). There are numerous unique incidences discussed, from skirmishes to involving the FBI when lingerie was stolen from a clothesline, that were enlightening and educational. It’s these little details that really make this novel’s world and characters feel like you could reach out and touch them.
Radar Girls is a perfect choice for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls.
Radar Girls will be available July 27, 2021. Thank you to NetGalley, Sara Ackerman, and Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing an advanced copy such that I could write this review. All opinions are completely honest, and my own.