Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
Teenage sisters Octavia and Tanita have their summer completely ruined when their mother informs them they are joining their grandmother — embarrassing, push-up-bra-wearing, red-sports-car-driving Mare — on a cross-country road trip to a family reunion. (But of course, things don't turn out as bad as they feared.)
Mare's War is told in alternating chapters, some in the present with the girls driving with their grandmother, and the rest in flashbacks to Mare's time as a WAC in World War II. The girls are surprised to hear about their grandmother's adventures, having had no idea (like many of us) that grandma ever dared to have a life before she got old.
Honestly, I could've done without the chapters in the present. They served as a breather, to remind us that this story is framed by a roadtrip, that the story may have never been told without the roadtrip, but still only seemed like a way to try and connect us to the girls that the story isn't really about…I guess what I am trying to say is: Mare's story stands well enough on its own without the support of her (one) whiny and (one) shy granddaughters (who, naturally, learn their lesson and realize that they'd rather have done nothing else all summer than ride in that car with Mare.)
Mare's story whips us back 60 years and opens a door into the African American battalion of the Women's Army Corps, where Mare lied about her age to join the Army and get away from an unhappy life at home. She leaves her sister behind, and risks never speaking to her mother again, all to serve a cause, to serve a purpose, and to feel needed. This is the kind of story that makes you reflect back on past sacrifices and wonder (if it were your story) if things would have panned out the same way. It's an uncomfortable read at times, too — Davis doesn't shy away from the racism of the 40's or the ease in which some men had their way with women. Overall, it is a story that champions the strength of a woman, the strengths of the women in the WAC, all the while reminding all of us us that our grandmas may have some surprises up their sleeves. Tanita Davis gets an A in my book for this one.