Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis

January 25, 2010 Book Reviews, Books 3

There are a few books left over from last year that I didn’t manage to get reviewed.  Unfortunately, Mare’s War, which was on my favorite reads of 2009 list, was one of them.  I’m rectifying that situation right now.

There are a great many things I find fascinating.  Family history.  WWII history.  Teenagers.  (No really, they are!) And road trips, for a start.

Mare’s War features all of these, so there was no way I wasn’t going to love this book.  And I did, I sooooo did.

Going on a road trip with their… unusual grandmother Mare is the last thing teens Tali and Octavia want to do with their summer.  At the insistence of their mother, the girls reluctantly get in the car and take off to a mysterious family reunion on the other side of the country, in Alabama.

The girls, like most teenagers, don’t know how they will survive the trip with Mare.  Before they have even left the driveway, their grandmother is getting on their nerves with her smoking and Mare is annoying with Tali constantly listening to music on her MP3 player.  The two make a pact; Mare will not smoke if Tali will give up the music.

To make the time go faster, Mare begins telling the girls stories, stories of her younger years.  The girls are astonished to hear about Mare’s youth in Alabama, about how she grew up during the Great Depression, the lengths she went to to protect her own sister and her differences with her mother.  The biggest surprise of all is learning how Mare ran away from home to join the WAC (Women’s Army Corp) and served during World War II.  Mare’s struggles at home with her mother and her mother’s abusive man make joining the army feel like a piece of cake.  It gives her a safe place to live, three meals and day and gives her strength and a belief in herself that could never be bought.

Yet, even though the WAC gave immeasurable help to their country while fighting the Nazi’s in Europe, the segregation that Mare and all the other colored soldiers in the 6888th Battalion, Company C, face is much harder to defeat.  Mare’s tough spirit and pride in her Company and all the women she served with  remain with her and become a huge part of who she is. After all she’s been through, is it any wonder she thinks Tali and Octavia are a little bit spoiled?

The girls are fascinated.  Who knew their grandmother had done such amazing things?  Mare’s stories are eye-opening to say the least.  By the end of their trip, the three have grown closer and the girls have a new respect for Mare – and Mare for them.

Tanita S. Davis has written a thoughtful, powerful tale about women, African-Americans, and the struggles they have faced in, not only the racist past, but in the still racist present we live in now.  Not only that, but it fills in a blank part of all American’s history of World War II, the brave way the women of the 6888th Battalion, Company C, helped end World War II.  And it’s powerful message of family, of history, of knowing your place in the world and the sacrifices of those who came before us, help shape every reader’s perception of themselves.  I hate to admit that I knew next to nothing about the 6888th Battalion, Company C, so I was so happy to learn more about these amazing women.  It’s a shame that their story has been so hugely lost to history and many props to Ms. Davis for bringing their story back to the light.  This is a book everyone woman, no matter their color, should read.

As for whether a teenager will sit through a book about history, I love what Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has to say about that:

Oh, and if you have teens who you know will like this book but may be turned off by the history, because some teenagers eyes glaze over when you say “and it’s about women soldiers in World War II!” Simply say, “and then Mare went after her mother’s boyfriend with a hatchet.” Imagine hearing THAT about your grandma.

Not to mention Tali and Octavia do a lot of growing up during the course of their road-trip.  Octavia especially, a quiet, shy girl, learns to find courage within herself and that is always fun to read. And the dynamic between the two girls, typical sisters, friends and fighters, is well written and felt true to life.

Mare is one tough grandma and I couldn’t help but come to adore her (and the girls!) over the course of this book and is definitely why this was one of my favorite reads last year.

Mare’s War
Written by:
Tanita S. Davis
Category: Young Adult
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
On Sale: June 2009
ISBN: 9780375857140

Author’s blog

Other Links:

More on the 6888th

Other Opinions:

Colleen Mondor’s Bookslut in Training review | Reading in ColorThe Happy Nappy Bookseller | Jen Robinson’s Book Page review | Reading Rants! | Charlotte’s Library | The Reading Zone | everything distils into reading | A Patchwork of Books |

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