For those who loved Niven’s previous books, Velva Jean Learns to Drive and Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and wonder what happened to Velva Jean Hart after she learned to fly, Becoming Clementine is the answer. I was deeply invested in the first two books about Velva Jean and approached this one with some skepticism. How in the world did Velva Jean Hart from the mountains of North Carolina transform herself into Clementine Roux, a spy for the French Resistance?
World War II is the agent of change for Velva Jean. As a WASP, she has volunteered to pilot a B-17 to England, hoping once she’s there she can look for her beloved brother Johnny Clay, a paratrooper missing since D-Day. From England, it’s off to France to drop supplies. When her plane is shot down by Germans, she’s stuck in occupied France with members of the Resistance, posing as Clementine Roux, an American widow of a Frenchman, allowing herself to be sent to prison so that she can free the valued agent, “Swan.”
I feel challenged to do this book justice. I’m not the writer that Niven is, but I loved it that much. The Velva Jean who taught herself to drive, play the guitar, write songs, and fly is wholly credible in this persona she’s forced to adopt. Her determination and strength see her through a terrible ordeal in prison, and her ingenuity saves her life. The horrors of occupied France are on full display – even after the liberation of Paris, freedom is elusive, and the Germans are ruthless. There is a love interest, but as in the previous book, Velva Jean finds that she’s not defined by the man in her life. I’m not sure where Velva Jean will go after this, but I’ll follow her wherever that is.