Review: The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

22857253*I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Last Pilot

Author: Benjamin Johncock

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9781250066640

The Last Pilot
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Harrison turns his attention home, passing up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter, Florence, into the world. Together, he and Grace confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison’s instincts as a father and a pilot are put to test. The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Beginning when the dust of the Second World War has only just begun to settle and rushing onward into the Sixties, Benjamin Johncock traces the path of this young couple as they are uprooted by events much larger than themselves. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary new talent.

I’ve never read a novel taking place quite in this setting, and reading about pilots during the space race was quite exciting. I found myself quite attached to the Harrison family as they face the triumphs and pitfalls of the life of a top test pilot. They make the best of their life, brought together for their love for one another and their only child Florence. Jim loves his career, and his family even more. But tragedy strikes and this family finds itself suddenly torn apart. The struggles they face and the anxieties the have are heightened by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the on going fear of the Cold War.

What I loved about this novel was the emotion of the characters and how true to life they were. Jim and Grace have a wonderful relationship, but it isn’t always perfect. Their marriage becomes strained in times of devastation. They are not always able to cope with things falling apart in their lives and they are not immune to being pulled apart by tragedy. They love one another through everything, but this story demonstrates the reality that love is not always enough. Especially in grief, these two are not always able to provide the support and stability they each need.

My only criticism of this book is that I thought there’d be a much greater focus on the space race than there was. While it was well integrated with the familial story of the Harrisons, I felt as though the subplots addressing the development of NASA’s astronaut program suddenly switched to Grace’s point of view, that of a housewife at home while her husband is constantly away at work. While it was interesting, and Grace faces some struggles with the other space wives, I think I would have liked to see more of the training, the test flights, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is quite a lot of this already, and many of you may love the balance that this novel finds between familial drama, history, and technological development, I personally would have like to read more about the space endeavours.

I really enjoyed Johncock’s novel. It was easy to read with relatable characters and a touching and heart-breaking plot.

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