Imagine you are a teenage girl with plans of your own for the summer when you find out you're going on a road trip - a very long road trip - with both your sister and your grandmother, who is anything but a "normal" grandmother. Marey Lee Boylen drives a "sporty red car" and "wears flippy auburn wigs, stiletto shoes, and padded push-up bras." Oh, and she smokes. Even though she knows she isn't supposed to. She might seem a tad far-fetched, until, through the course of the road trip to a family reunion, she tells the girls her fascinating story of leaving her less-than-ideal home in Alabama to join the Women's Army Corps and of the adventures she had during World War II. It was a harsh life, but Mare shows her indomitable spirit and Tali and Octavia aren't the only ones who will gain an appreciation for the contribution of African-American women to the war effort. Readers can't help but appreciate the sacrifice and amazing story of those women who served so nobly in an age when prejudice was normative. This is history with which we should all become acquainted, and Davis has packaged it in a vehicle (pun intended!) which entices the reader to hop in and hang on!
Tali, 17, and Octavia, 15, are typical suburban California teens and Marey Lee's story of war time ("then") is interspersed between chapters devoted to the "now" of the threesome's cross-country travels, told from the vantage point of Octavia. Adding to Octavia's amusing recount of their journey are replications of postcards that Tali sends to friends and family back home. Their journey proves to be more than just a road trip, but I'll let you discover that when you read the book.
And you really must read the book! February is Black History Month, for all of us, not just African-Americans. Because Blacks have shaped our shared history. You can't help but admire these women who gave so much to serve a country that denied them equality. Tanita S. Davis has gifted us with this story that celebrates what is good about that history without glossing over what was bad. What's even more remarkable is that she gives us this story without making helpless victims of those who suffered horrendous injustices. In doing so, she empowers all of us to move forward from that time, not in unhealthy denial, but with truth and strength.