Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II

Written by Kaia Alderson
Review by Jane Ann McLachlan

Sisters in Arms takes us into the lives of the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. Told from the point of view of two spunky young Black women, from the time they enlisted through their training and overseas deployment to their return to the U.S., we get an honest look at what Black women experienced during that period of history. Although the characters are fictional, many of the incidents they experience are taken from real events faced by these women.

Alderson writes with a passion and a deep understanding of the prejudice and segregation these women endured and their determination to face it with integrity and courage. The novel is extremely well-researched, even to the variety of slang used by the Black characters, the musicians, and the white army officers. “I love me some women in uniform,” Earl Hines says. All of this contributes to the realism that infuses this novel. I was particularly struck by the unrelenting sense the characters felt of representing their race, of their every word and action being judged not only as an indictment on themselves, but as a judgement all their people would bear.

I wish I could say this book is beautifully written. It is grammatical and clear – you aren’t left wondering what Alderson’s getting at – but often it’s overdone, where the author shows us what the character is feeling, then tells us, in case we didn’t get it: “Grace stabbed the point of her shovel deep into her pile. She had had enough of this.” “Grace tended to hang back from socializing. She seemed to be more of a loner.”

Despite this, the characters are complex and sympathetic, the history is accurate, the storyline held my interest throughout, and I gained a greater understanding of what it meant to be Black in the 1940s. Well worth the read.