Front Lines by Michael Grant (Soldier Girl #1)
Published January 26, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books, 574 pp.
1942. World War II. The most terrible war in human history. Millions are dead; millions more are still to die. The Nazis rampage across Europe and eye far-off America.
The green, untested American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled—the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
But something has changed. A court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. So in this World War II, women and girls fight, too.
As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering. Not one expects to see actual combat. Not one expects to be on the front lines.
Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. They will fear and they will rage; they will suffer and they will inflict suffering; they will hate and they will love. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.
New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant has created a masterful alternate history of World War II in Front Lines, the first volume in a groundbreaking series.
How goes it?
Oh my god this book. I love when I pick up books that completely overshoot anything I expect and I end up loving it, or even better, when I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. Front Lines is one of those books. Set in an alternate historical version of WWII, Front Lines drags you through every emotion: sweet and fluffy, dark and gritty, and even, somehow, hopeful. Mostly, I love the characters in this: they all come alive and you come to root for them by the end.
Front Lines is told through the view of three girls in WWII: Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman, but is about 5 of them. Cat Preeling and Jenou Castain have yet to have their turn, but you get to know all of them the same. They have different backgrounds – Rio, Jenou, and Cat are white, live relatively comfortable lives, Frangie is black, and Rainy is a Jew – but they all sign up for the war. None of them actually expect to end up on the forefront of World War II, but they all do, and Front Lines tells the story of how they all come to the decision to join the army, their training, and their first experiences of the realities of war.
What urged me to pick this up is the spin it puts on the war: that girls are now eligible for conscription. There are so many angles to approach this that just thinking about it made my head spin: females in the army? Women out of the household, stepping out of their “traditional” roles? What about of women of color?
I love this. I’ve said this before but this book is brilliant. I read majority of Front Lines in public places and made expressions unfit for such a setting but this book gave me life. Michael Grant’s writing is what makes this great – it’s matter-of-fact, but doesn’t lack depth and emotion and brings all 5 girls to life. Cat and Jenou don’t quite have a point-of-view yet, since this is told through Rio, Frangie, and Rainy’s experiences, bit I expect they’ll have theirs in the next book. There’s also a bibliography at the end, which my inner grad student self appreciates.
The book is divided into two parts: Training and War. Training is, of course, where the girls are introduced and undergo training, one way or another. All the girls have different reasons for joining: Rio and Jenou are girls from Northern California, and sign up just before they turn 18 – Rio’s elder sister Rachel is dead in the attack on Pearl Harbour, and Rio just wants to do her part in the war, and Jenou wants to get out of her house with apathetic and alcoholic parents. Frangie is from Oklahoma, and her family is barely staying afloat – the income from her joining the army will keep a house over her family’s head and food in their bellies. Rainy just wants to rid the world of Hitler. War is where they’re finally thrust into the front lines of WWII, and how all of them basically handle it.
It’s a good thing that all 5 girls are written well and have distinct personalities, because this helped me humanize and connect with what’s happening in the book. If I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I was I doubt I would’ve liked this as much.
I honestly wasn’t sure how this book would go, if it would bore me or I wouldn’t be able to connect to the girls – because really, how much in common do I have with a girl that’s joining a war? Not much, of course, but at the same time I do. Because at one point, they were all just teenagers – the war was a thing far from home; nowhere near their shores.
In the beginning Jenou and Rio are just schoolgirls, on the lookout for cute boys to go out with – until Jenou brings up that she intends to enlist.
Look ok, I don’t know how much guts it takes to enlist for a war, much less see through and finish training – but I will give this book the fact that if it were me, given the right friends, and enough prodding from them, I’d probably enlist too. Because Rio, Jenou, and I think the same thing: there’s a fat chance I won’t even see action.
Jenou and Rio do sign up, finish training, and are given assignments: they, along with the rest of their platoon, are now part of an infantry division. They’re foot soldiers.
So. Many. Feelings.
You guys I don’t think I can stress how much I just felt a whole range of emotion while reading this book. Uncertainty, hope, fear, fluffy (fluffy is a feeling), and even frustration because somehow, Michael Grant managed to insert a love triangle of sorts in here.
There’s a chapter in the first half of the book, where Strand and Rio are on an idyllic date, and this is when they’ve both just finished training and are home for maybe the last time in a long time. It’s my favourite – it somehow manages to be sweet, full of the possibilities of a young love, but knowing what the characters themselves know, it’s also bittersweet, because Strand and Rio know this is probably the last time they’ll have a normal date.
If there’s one scene I can call to mind that to me highlights Michael Grant’s writing skills, it’s the scene where Rio and her platoon first land on African soil. It’s nighttime, they have no idea where they are, and are most probably in hostile territory. My heart was beating so hard – I could almost feel how everyone on that boat felt while making that landing.
Maaaybe I could’ve done without Rio and her muddled feelings for Strand and Stafford, who is from her platoon and British (I get it girl, it’s the accent), and Jenou’s constant boy-crazy attitude, but the whole book outweighs these for me.
One of my favourite books of the year! Unique plot, interesting characters, and great writing. Give this a shot if you want something out of your usual YA!