In Kaia Alderson’s witty and powerful debut novel, World War II is a conflict not only between nations but also within the hearts of two Black women serving in the U.S. Army. It’s also a chance to prove themselves to their restrictive families and a prejudiced society. Sisters in Arms chronicles their story, which spans the constraints of New York City and the perils of war-torn Europe.
For Grace Steele, pursuing a career in classical music is all she has ever wanted. But when her music idol questions her commitment, she enlists in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which she hopes will provide her with the sense of fulfillment she longs for. She enrolls alongside Eliza Jones, a lively and privileged Black woman who is defying her father to demonstrate her capacity to thrive on her own. Grace and Eliza join the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, pioneers in a field dominated by white men.
Sisters in Arms stands out for its originality in exploring a lesser-known part of World War II and American history. The novel also incorporates the inspiring contributions of real Black historical figures including American educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Major Charity Adams (the first Black woman to be an officer of the WAAC) and Truman Gibson Jr. (a civilian aide), as well as Mary Bankston, Mary Barlow and Delores Browne, Black female soldiers who died while fighting in France.
The novel is not only a historical account of the war but also a beautifully interlacing tale of loss, friendship and romance. Despite Grace’s irritable attitude and Eliza’s sense of self-importance, the two strike up a friendship. During their service, their bond is tested, but they learn to stick together to survive, and their romantic relationships enhance their personal stories.
Both women grow during their time in the Army. From a lost and unsure woman whose future is determined by her mother, Grace develops her own perspective on what she wants to accomplish. Eliza proves that even when she is stripped of her privilege, she is capable of succeeding. They encounter and triumph against racism, chauvinism and the turbulent events of the war.
An outstanding historical novel, Sisters in Arms succeeds at celebrating the accomplishments of the Six Triple Eight Battalion through the lives of two audacious Black women.