Grades 6-10 Marey Lee Boylen, known as Mare, is not a typical grandmother. For Octavia and Talitha, the prospect of a forced, cross-country road trip with their unpredictable grandmother is daunting, even if the mode of transportation is a red sports car. The already tense family relations quickly deteriorate as an argument erupts over Tali’s use of headphones and Mare’s smoking. After the two agree to a no headphones-no smoking pact, Mare passes the time by sharing stories about her youth in rural Alabama and her service in the 6888th African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. What follows is a powerful story of a young woman’s struggle for independence and her strength in the service of her country in the face of racism and segregation. For Mare, the Women’s Army Corps is both an opportunity and a reminder of the realities of race relations in 1940s America.
Davis tells the story in a series of alternating chapters. Headings of “Then” and “Now” differentiate Mare’s narrative from younger granddaughter Octavia’s reflections on the trip. Mare is strong, colorful character. But the secondary characters are equally compelling. Each member of the 6888th is an individual, from practical Peaches, who helps Mare learn to properly make a bed for inspection, to Ruby, the city girl from Texas who can’t boil water. The diversity of African-American experiences is reflected in the descriptions of these women. Mare’s granddaughters are strong, young women in their right whose respect for their unusual grandmother grows over the course of the trip. The chapters written from Octavia’s point of view will help draw young readers into the story, Davis’ vivid descriptions of Mare’s exploits will hold their attention.
Mare’s War grew out of Davis’ search through military records for information on her own grandmother. Through this story she sheds light on a little known era of American history and reminds readers of some of the unsung heroes of the war. Interested readers will find resources for further information in the author’s acknowledgements. This book would make an excellent addition to any library’s collection of multicultural resources. But it deserves to be read because it is, quite simply, a wonderful book.