Mare's War

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Mare's War Book Poster Image
Unique African American woman's WWII experience.

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age 11+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Explores the often-overlooked role of African American women in WWII.

Positive Messages

Mare is a devoted older sister, always trying to protect her younger sibling. Mare runs away from home, lies about her age, and joins the Women's Army. Mare lets Octavia drive, even though she is not old enough to have a permit. Mare faces segregation and discrimination in the Army, with "Whites Only" signs. Mare faces her fears and sticks with her training even when it's difficult. She overcomes her pride and agrees to lessons on speaking proper English. Mare's mother refuses to write her. Mare's husband cheats on her and she leaves him.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mare is an admirable, but by no means perfect, character.


When her mother's drunken boyfriend comes into the girls' bedroom (with a suggestion that he wants to molest her younger sister), Mare fights him with a hatchet. He dislocates her shoulder and pounds her head against a wall until their mother fires a shotgun and scares him off. Men get into a fight over racist comments. One man says, "We strung up a big ugly nigra like you back home." Mare trains for war duty and spends time in England, where bombs drop.


Mare's aunt tells her younger sister that "the army has you girls there to keep the men happy." She also says to "watch out for certain kinds of mannish girls up there." Women go on dates. Tali tells Mare to "check out the hottie" in tight black jeans. 


Some of the Army women use racist terms for people of other nationalities, including "Japs," "dagos," and "Krauts." A racist man calls an African American Red Cross worker a "boy," "coon," and "uppity nigra."


Mare and her friends use some of their wages to buy clothes and toiletries. Mare pays for the girls to buy souvenirs at every stop along the drive.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mare's mother drinks whiskey. Mare eats "tipsy cake" soaked in sour mash whiskey and drinks a fruit drink with gin. As an adult, Mare smokes cigarettes. Tali orders a Kahlua and cream, arguing that it contains as much alcohol as vanilla. (She gets in trouble for it.)

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's an intense scene where Mare fights her mother's boyfriend; there is also some drinking of hard alcohol. Racist treatment of African Americans during this time period is historically accurate. Mare is an admirable, but by no means perfect, character.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byLibrarymouse June 4, 2015

Love this book

I found this book at a rummage sale. One of the best dollars I ever spent. This is an engaging look at a little known part of history (African-American women so... Continue reading

What's the story?

Fifteen-year-old Octavia and her 17-year-old sister Tali must drive across the country with their stiletto shoes-wearing, cigarette-smoking grandmother, who insists they call her by her first name, Mare. Neither teen is happy about it, but both are slowly drawn into Mare's stories about her own youth, when she ran away from her poor Alabama home at 16 and joined the Women's Army Corps. In alternating chapters, the narration switches from their road trip to Mare's first-person account of her time in training and then in service overseas with an African American WAC unit.

Is it any good?

Teens might relate more to Octavia and Tali, but Mare's story is the more compelling as she transforms from a poor farm girl to buff soldier. Her African American WAC experiences highlight a rarely seen side of World War II, inspired by the author's research into her own grandmother's life. Davis keeps the history personal and fresh with Mare's strong voice.

The contrast between the whiny, spoiled contemporary teens and their hard-working grandmother is often jarring; readers may find themselves skimming the "now" chapters to reach the next "then."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about segregation and the treatment of African Americans before the civil rights movement.

  • Octavia and Tali have never heard about African American women serving in the military before; what does this say about how American history is taught in school?

  • Mare says, "Talking about segregation isn't as nice and neat as talking about being the 'greatest generation' that won the war. For some folks, it's just stirring up bad memories." Do you agree?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Great African American stories

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