The last thing fifteen-year-old Octavia wants to do is spend the summer with her older sister, Talitha, and their grandmother, Mare. She’d rather be looking for a job. Or hanging out with her friends. Anything but sitting in a car, driving from San Francisco to Alabama for a family reunion. All sorts of boring. Especially since she really doesn’t get along with either Mare or Talitha.
Except as they start driving, Mare starts talking about her past: what made her run away from Bay Slough, Alabama, and join the Women’s Army Corps near the end of World War II; her experiences in both a segregated South and a 1940s Midwest, not to mention in the Army. The chapters alternate between then — Mare’s history — and now — the road trip — and as the book unfolds, we learn more about all three of our characters. It’s an interesting journey, for both the characters as well as the readers. In the course of the book, Davis tackles both women’s and race issues: from rape to segregation to sibling rivalry to parental expectations and everything in between. It would seem that this would be a heavy-handed book, but it’s not. There’s a lot to think about and talk about, but it’s like a sugar-coated pill: it goes down easy. Mare’s a fascinating character, all bumps and edges with a heart of gold underneath. And while I found Talitha and Octavia to be less charming, they are certainly not uninteresting.
Which means this is one of those rare breeds of books: entertaining while educational at the same time. Well done.
Rated: Mild for some uncomfortable situations, but nothing graphic.