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Mare's War

Mare's War

4.3 13
by Tanita S. Davis

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Meet Mare, a World War II veteran and a grandmother like no other. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less than perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American Battalion of the Women's Army Corps. Now she is driving her granddaughters—two willful teenagers in their own rite—on a cross-country road trip. The


Meet Mare, a World War II veteran and a grandmother like no other. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less than perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American Battalion of the Women's Army Corps. Now she is driving her granddaughters—two willful teenagers in their own rite—on a cross-country road trip. The girls are initially skeptical of Mare's flippy wigs and stilletos, but they soon find themselves entranced by the story she has to tell, and readers will be too.

Told in alternating chapters, half of which follow Mare through her experiences as a WAC and half of which follow Mare and her granddaughters on the road in the present day, this novel introduces readers to a larger-than-life character and a fascinating chapter in African American history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2009:
"Absolutely essential reading."

From the Hardcover edition.

VOYA - Carlisle K. Webber
During a road trip from California to Florida with their grandmother Mare, sisters Talitha and Octavia hear about Mare's extraordinary history. In 1944, at age seventeen, Mare ran away from her backwater Alabama town and joined the Women's Army Corps. After lying about her age and passing a written exam, Mare went on to become a member of the 6888th African American battalion. Through basic training, she gained physical and emotional strength. During the course of the war, she served in the United States, Scotland, and France. She tells her story through oral narrative and with letters she has written to her sister. Although she does not glamorize any part of army life, Mare narrates both her good and bad times in the service. Mare is strong, stubborn, and self-reliant—traits the reader can see and admire in her granddaughters. Readers may be surprised to learn about the level of discrimination Mare faced for being a woman as well as African American, even in the armed forces. Davis gives both major and minor character very distinct traits, making them memorable. She also has an ear for dialect and the speech of the 1940s, although the modern dialogue feels stilted in places. By focusing on vivid characterizations rather than long descriptions, Davis creates a work of historical fiction that even non-historians can enjoy. Reviewer: Carlisle K. Webber
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10–On a parent-mandated cross-country road trip with Mere, their unpredictable grandmother, 15-year-old Octavia and 17-year-old Tali make the transformation from complaining, self-absorbed teens to observant, supportive family members. Mere promises not to smoke if the sisters promise not to use earphones on their way to a family reunion. And then she begins to tell her life story. As the miles pass from California across the southern states, the girls become intrigued with memories of Mere’s harsh childhood of domestic work and her struggle to protect herself and younger sister from their widowed mother’s lecherous boyfriend. Mere’s account of her war years is full of historical detail and lively personal anecdotes about the training, treatment, duties, and social life in her African-American regiment of the Women’s Army Corps both on assignment in the U.S. and in the European Theater during 1944 and 1945. Octavia and Tali write postcards home to family and friends revealing their adolescent reactions to what they see and hear. Their bickering subsides as they begin to understand the experiences, people, and decisions that shaped their grandmother and the family bond they all share. Told in alternating chapters of “Then” and “Now,” this contemporary intergenerational story resounds with mutual exasperation, criticism, discovery, and humor. Octavia and Tali are believable and at times devious as they try to escape Mere’s scrutiny. A steady travelogue, realistic banter, memorable characters, and moments of tension, insight, and understanding make this an appealing selection.–Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
Kirkus Reviews
A summer road trip serves as frame for the story of Octavia and Tali's extraordinary grandmother. Born on a farm just before the Great Depression, Marey Lee Boyen dreams of getting herself and her younger sister Josephine as far away from Bay Slough, Ala., as possible-especially when their mother's boyfriend turns a lustful eye toward them both. After Josephine is sent away to Aunt Shirley in Philadelphia, Mare lies about her age and joins the Women's Army Corps at the height of World War II. As Octavia and Tali travel with Mare back home to Bay Slough, readers experience Pfc. Boyen's journey from basic training to extended field-service training, as she bonds with a remarkable group of young African-American women. Once her company, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, ships out to Europe, Mare and her fellow GIs process mail for the front lines in England and France. The parallel travel narratives are masterfully managed, with postcards from Octavia and Tali to the folks back home in San Francisco signaling the shift between "then" and "now." Absolutely essential reading. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


It's just a sporty red car parked across our driveway, but when I see it, my stomach plummets. It's my grandmother.

Already, I hate this summer. Usually, I laze around with my best friends, Eremasi and Rye, for the first few weeks until it's too late to get a job and then find a babysitting gig or two to keep my parents happy, but this year, my parents jumped in and planned my summer for me. Yesterday was the last day of school. Last night, Mom pulled out the suitcases and made us pack. We're going to some kind of a reunion--with my grandmother. Today.

My grandmother isn't at all normal. She doesn't read mystery novels, or sing in a church choir, or knit, or sew. She doesn't do the Jumbles in the newspaper, and she hates crosswords. She isn't at all soft or plump, doesn't smell like cinnamon, pumpkin bread, or oatmeal cookies. My grandmother, Ms. Marey Lee Boylen, is not the cookie type.

She wears flippy auburn wigs, stiletto shoes, and padded push-up bras. Once, when we were little, my sister, Talitha, and I found a pair of panties in her bathroom with a fake butt. (We kept snickering, "Fanny pants!" at each other and busting up all afternoon. My mother finally made us go sit in the car.)

My grandmother has long, fake nails and a croaky hoarse drawl, and she's always holding a long, skinny cigarette--unlit, otherwise my dad will have a fit--between her fingers. She's loud and bossy and she drinks bourbon with lemon juice at dinner. She has a low-slung red coupe, and Dad says she drives like a bat out of hell. She's almost eighty, and she still lives by herself in a town house stuck on a cliff near the Golden Gate Bridge. She takes the bus so she can avoid parking tickets and walks everywhere else on strappy high-heeled sandals.

Our journalism teacher, Ms. Crase, would say that my grandmother is colorful, like somebody from a book. I say my grandmother is scary, mostly because I never know what she's going to do next.

She talks to strangers. She asks questions--totally nosy ones--as if just because she's old, she can afford to be rude. She says what she thinks, she changes her mind every five minutes, and she laughs at me--a lot. She and I are completely different types of people.

I like predictability. I like maps, dictionaries, and directions. I like lists of things to do, knowing the answer, and seeing how everything fits. My grandmother is definitely one of those people who thrive on chaos and instability. She's what my mother calls a free spirit and what I call completely random.

She can't even go by a normal name. No one calls my grandmother Grandma or Granny or even Nana. When my parents got married, she said she didn't want anyone _calling her a mother-in-law. When my sister was born, my grandmother told Mom she didn't want anyone calling her a grandmother, either. They finally decided that the grandchildren were supposed to call her Mare, and that's what we all call her now, even my dad.

Mare. Mere. Like the French word for "mother." Which is just another example of how Mare is completely bizarre--I mean, we're not even French. And she's not our mother.

So going with her to a reunion is bad enough, but to make matters worse, we don't even really know where we're going. Mare has some whacked idea that it's more of an adventure if we just get in the car and drive east. And yeah, I said "car." See, since 2001, Mare won't fly--so we have to drive ALL ACROSS THE UNITED STATES.

In the middle of the baking-hot summer.

My grandmother, my sister, and me, all trapped in one car.
I'm not the only one who hates this idea. You should have heard my sister.

"What? Us?" Tali's voice had climbed. "Why do we have to go, Mom? They're Dad's relatives."

"They're your relatives, too," my mother reminded her. "And, Talitha, it's a long drive back east. It's not something your grandmother should attempt alone, and you know your dad can't take the time off of work until the end of June."

"Can't we just fly?" I groaned.

Mom shook her head. "You know Mare doesn't trust planes. She wants to see her people, so she's going to get in her car and drive to them."

"Oh, nice," Tali sighed. "This is just how I wanted to spend my summer break. With the slow and the dead."

"Talitha Marie," my mother had said in that dry-ice voice she uses. "Enough."

Tali had given my mother one last look and then yelled for Dad. But no matter who she whined to or argued with, the end result is the same: tomorrow, my sister and I are starting out on a 2,340-mile drive across the United States to somewhere in Alabama.

So much for summer vacation.

I'm not eager to see Mare, and neither is Tali, judging from the fact that she's sitting on the front porch with her backpack.

"Hey, what's Mare doing here already?" I ask, dropping my bag of library books on the step next to her. "Didn't she say we weren't leaving till eleven-thirty?"

Talitha shrugs, busily sending a text to one of her best friends, either Suzanne or Julie. "Don't know, don't care."

"Why are you waiting out here?"

"I'm not waiting. I'm texting, duh." Tali keeps her eyes on her cell.

I push up my sunglasses. "Well, if Mare wants somebody to wash her car, it's your turn."

"Fine. Last time she paid me twenty bucks."

"What?! She's never paid me anything!"

Tali glances up, her dark eyes barely visible above the edge of her blue-tinted sunglasses. "So? You should've asked."

Before I can answer, the front door swings open. "Girls, why are you outside? Mare's here."

Meet the Author

In addition to Mare's War, Coretta Scott King Honor winner TANITA DAVIS has written one other YA novel for Knopf, A la Carte. She was inspired to write Mare's War while researching her family's history: "I discovered an America I had never seen," said Davis, and it is that America her book brings to life.

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Mare's War 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Super good book
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
Told from the alternating perspectives of 15 year-old Octavia (an African-American teenager from California) and Mare, her elderly grandmother who enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II at the age of 17, this novel tells a heartwarming tale of intergenerational bonding while also filling a gap in historical knowledge. Mare narrates two chapters (all entitled “then”) for every one that Octavia narrates (all entitled “now”) as they drive from California to Alabama with Octavia’s older sister, Tali. Along the way, Mare tells her granddaughters the story of how she came to enlist in the army during WWII, trained in the south, and served overseas in England and France. Mare’s story, which comprises the bulk of the novel, addresses a number of serious issues—attempted child sexual abuse, family strife, poverty, racial discrimination and inequality, lesbianism—as it highlights the numerous “wars” that Mare fought while growing up and serving in the Army in the 1940s. Along the way, Octavia and Tali come to appreciate their grandmother’s struggles and learn more about American history, all the while developing stronger familial bonds of their own with each other and with their grandmother. The complementary narratives depict deeply contrasting stories of growing up as a Black woman during two different periods in American history. Educational without being pedantic, this novel serves as an entertaining way for adolescents to learn about and appreciate an often neglected aspect of American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My teacher read this to us for our daily read aloud, and i loved the book so much i had to get it on my nook. But i dont recommend it to kids younger than 12
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whitestar of bloodclan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
zaftigbabe More than 1 year ago
Two teens are stuck in a car with their crazy granny, Mare, as they drive cross-country to a family reunion. Along the way, Mare recounts her experiences in an all-black unit of the Women's Army Corps in World War II. The story cuts back and forth between Mare running off to join the Army and the two modern girls realizing just how spoiled they are compared to the Greatest Generation. Davis' straightforward narrative doesn't spare anyone's feelings, but this isn't a story about discrimination so much as it's about breaking through other people's expectations to become your own person -- in any day and age.
nileriver More than 1 year ago
Mare's War is about a grandmother who was in World War II . She is going on a road trip with her two grandduaghters who are caught up in there own world of MP3 players and cell phones , but while heading for a Family reuion down south from California the girls are forced , but enlightned to know the past of their grandma Mare's life and what she has done for herself and family . I loved the book and could not put it down such a great read that follows a fictional story with historical facts of the times frame around world war two with the African American army of women . I highly suggest you and your kids read this book .
Robin_Brande More than 1 year ago
Great blend of a history most of us never heard about--the "colored" women's unit of the U.S. Army during WWII--and a modern-day road trip with two girls and their tough, seen-it-all grandmother. Great family story, but also a very inspiring how-to--how to transform yourself from a poor, afraid, and powerless girl into an independent, kickass young woman. A book I'll gladly share with the teenage girls in my life!
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Going on a road trip with their wacky grandmother, Mare, is not at all how either Octavia or Tali wants to spend their summer. However, at Mare's insistence, they reluctantly agree to accompany her all the way across the country for some mysterious family reunion in Alabama. The girls don't know how they will survive all of this time cooped up together with each other and with Mare. Before they even leave the driveway, Mare is already driving Tali crazy with her smoking and Tali's headphones are equally unacceptable to Mare. The two make a pact to banish cigarettes and headphones for the trip, and do a pretty good job of keeping their word. To whittle away the hours as Mare drives, she tells stories of her younger years. Both Tali and Octavia are astonished to hear some of Mare's stories about growing up in the Great Depression and running away from home to serve in the WAC (Women's Army Corps) during World War II. Mare's struggles at home made joining the army seem like a wonderful proposition. The army provided a place to live where she would be safe from harm and fed three good meals a day. However, even though the WAC helped defeat the enemy in Europe, the segregation that Mare and the colored soldiers in 6888th Battalion, Company C face proves much harder to vanquish. Nevertheless, Mare's tough spirit and pride from her army days will always remain an integral part of who she is. After all she has been through, it is no wonder Mare thinks Octavia and Tali are spoiled. By the end of this trip, all three women grow closer and develop a newfound appreciation and respect for one another. Tanita S. Davis weaves a thoughtful tale, alternating chapters between the modern day road trip and Mare's stories of the olden days. Readers who enjoyed Sherri L. Smith's FLYGIRL will also love this tale with a similar historical background.