Driving across the county with their cigarette-smoking, fast-driving, very unconventional grandmother, Mare is the last way Octavia and Talitha Boylen want to spend their summer vacation. But as Mare begins to tell them about her childhood and the forces that drove her into the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, Octavia and Tali come to a deeper understanding of their grandmother and themselves.
Alternating chapters break the story down between “now” and “then”, but Mare’s story is where this book shines. The road trip parts were less interesting and seemed unnecessary to me, although Davis does bring the two stories together in the end. What stood out most to me are the themes of family, loyalty, and inequality. It was heartbreaking to see Mare struggle with her mother’s silence after she joined the WAC and uplifting to witness the fierce love and sense of duty she felt towards her sister, Feen (which paralleled the relationship between Octavia and Tali). Davis also highlighted the disparity with which African Americans were treated during the war. They were good enough to fight but were still segregated in barracks, at drinking fountains and at nightclubs. Mare’s frustration is palpable:
“It is crazy to be here fighting for freedom and democracy when we are not free. It tears me up to wonder why we are here, why our colored men go down fighting, when things will stay the same at home.” (p. 195)
The only thing I felt was lacking was character connection. The plot moved quickly, but I didn’t feel for the characters.
Pair with Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.