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*Mare's War* by Tanita S. Davis- young adult book review  
Mare's War
by Tanita S. Davis
Grades 7+ 352 pages Knopf June 2009 Hardcover    

Is there anything worse than being forced to spend your summer vacation with your mouthy, bossy, embarrassingly eccentric grandmother? Talitha and Octavia know there is — being stuck in a car with her for weeks on end!

The girls have been volunteered by their parents to accompany their spike-heel-wearing, red-sportscar-driving octogenarian grandmother, Mare, on a roadtrip from California to Alabama. When their mother insists that it will be a great opportunity for the girls to get to know Mare (“Your grandmother changed the world.”), it seems like a desperate effort to make Talitha and Octavia stop grumbling about the loss of their mall time. It soon becomes apparent that Mare’s story is bigger and more exciting than her grandchildren could have imagined.

While teens Talitha and Octavia bemoan the lack of cell phone service on the back roads Mare insists on traveling and suffer through miles without decent music, their grandmother’s story of her own teen years unfolds like a magic box. By the time she was seventeen, Mare already worked two jobs to help support her mother and younger sister. She dreamed of a better life but had no idea how or when she’d find it. There just didn’t seem to be many options for a young black girl in Alabama in the 1940s.

As spirited in youth as in old age, Mare (Marey Lee) runs away to join the army. Talitha and Octavia have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, of course, but never knew about the 6888th, the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps. The greater surprise is that Grandma Mare was part of that revolutionary band of black female soldiers.

As Mare’s story continues, the girls and the reader are drawn into a world where Marey Lee and women like her regularly fought prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes. While stationed in England and in France, they quickly learn to face a different kind of enemy – the incessant bombs of the Axis. “Those bombs glide down in perfect silence,” Mare recalls, “you don’t know where they will land.” The raids were regular occurrences in Birmingham, England where the 6888th is stationed, but the WACS have important work to do and a few explosions aren’t going to stop them. “When a siren goes off… we just put on our helmets and keep working.”

Mare is a fictional character, but the best parts of her story are fact. In the course of telling a gripping story, Davis brings to life the women of the 6888th and highlights their courage and contributions without ever sacrificing novelistic integrity for lecture. Mare is an admirable representative of those remarkable heroines, the sort of role model we all want and need.

Mare's War is told through alternating points of view, beginning with Octavia’s spunky teenage voice and shifting naturally and seamlessly to Marey Lee’s reminiscences. Author Tanita S. Davis proves herself to be a born storyteller with a gift for pacing that makes Mare's War an experience rather than a novel. The smooth narrative rides on a ribbon of suspense without gimmicks or artificial contrivances, taking the reader on a journey into a world few have experienced.

This is one of those rare books that will appeal equally to readers of all backgrounds and ages, whatever genre they prefer to read. An eccentric grandmother myself, I’ve put Mare's War on the short list of books I strongly recommend to my grandchildren as well as to my friends.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Deborah Adams/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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