Review posted February 10, 2010.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009. 341 pages.
A 2010 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
I've always enjoyed books about teens driving with an elderly relative or acquaintance and being changed by the experience. Some notable examples are Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer, Hit the Road, by Caroline B. Cooney, and Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech.
Mare's War is along those lines. Octavia and her older sister Tali have been ordered to spend their summer vacation driving across the country with their grandmother, Mare, to go to a reunion in Alabama. Along the way, Mare tells them about her days as a member of the Women's Army Corps during World War II.
I didn't think Mare's War was as powerful as the other books I've mentioned in the driving-with-the-elderly genre. In the first place, Mare's story was told in separate chapters, as she experienced it at the time, not in the actual words she would have used to tell her granddaughters. And although the girls were interested in her story, they weren't significantly changed by it. The book felt on the long side, because they were taking a leisurely road trip juxtaposed with Mare just getting through the war, so the plot had no sense of urgency.
However, Mare's story was fascinating, so I still enjoyed the book very much. I had no idea that a company of black women served in the US Army overseas during World War II. I thought Tanita Davis did a great job expressing what that must have been like for those women.
The girls do gain a new appreciation for their grandmother, and the reader does, too. We definitely root for her as she experiences things completely new, learns how capable she truly is, and forms friendships she can count on forever.
This book shines a light on a piece of history I never thought about before, and tells a good story at the same time.