Saturday, 12 March 2016

'Front Lines', by Michael Grant

Title: Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1)
Author(s): Michael Grant
Release Date: 28th January 2016
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Genre: YA, Historical
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
A tense, exciting and moving new drama from the bestselling author of the GONE series.

1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

Set in an alternate World War II where young women are called up to fight alongside men, this is the story of Rio Richlin and her friends as they go into battle against Hitler’s forces.

But not everyone believes that they should be on the front lines. Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity. Because the fate of the world is in the hands of the soldier girls.

The first of three books, this is Michael Grant at his epic best.

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Historical fiction is a genre that I usually need to be really in the mood for to be able to fully enjoy. If I try and force it, nothing good will come out of it. I had been hearing wonders about 'Front Lines' months ahead of its publication and I had taken a note to get to it once I eventually got that craving for some World War II fiction, one of my favorite historical periods to read about.

I received a copy for review very unexpectedly and since it came with a time frame for posting our thoughts on it, I literally had to pick it up and read it as soon as I got it.

Taking into consideration my unpreparedness to dig into the genre, I was dreading ending up disliking a book that otherwise I had very high hopes for.

It just goes to show how amazing this book is that I was completely hooked from page one!

'Front Lines' brings us an alternative look into World War II. After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, a law has been passed that allows women to be drafted and to sign up to all different branches of the American military. The context in which this happens is very neatly summarized at the beginning of each part, where we get a page that serves as a quick refresher of how the world was going through this war.

The book's prologue takes place at the end of the war, when an unnamed narrator decides to write down everything that has happened for the last couple of years to herself and her friends. She addresses the reader directly, and those few pages are so completely blunt about the consequences of war and how people involved in it cope with its tragedies that I felt an immense and compelling need to know how this character got to be that broken. As she refuses to identify herself, you will spend most of your reading of this book trying to figure out which one of the girls she is, and I don't think I've experienced such a positive frustration in a good while.

The first half of the book serves as an introduction of all the girls that compose the protagonist group: Rio, Jenou, Rainy and Frangie. At this point in the story they are all still safely at home, contemplating the very contrasting reasons why they want to enlist. The search for a purpose, a paycheck, or even a husband make for a very round group of girls that are forced to become women in one of the worst periods in history.

I found myself connecting in different ways with all of them, but as the reading progressed I started really caring for Rio and her safety. She is probably the most innocent out of the group, so seeing her thrown into a bloody, ruthless battlefield and faced with the predicament of having to kill other human beings to survive only made me root even more that she would turn out to be the narrator, and therefore the one still alive when the war comes to an end.

Another soft spot went to Rainy, as she reminded me quite a lot of one of my favorite fictional female characters ever, down to the fact that they are contemporaries in historical period and even choice of profession!


One of the things that I really appreciated about this book is how much it does not romanticize war or the role that women are fulfilling in it. We are faced with the casualties that war brings very early on in the book, along with the realization that just because women are legally entitled to enlist, it does not automatically take away the prejudice and misogynistic views on that decision. Women are flushed out of the programs as soon as possible and when they do manage to make it through, most are relegated to secretarial or other 'womanly' jobs. As much as I wanted to read this book as being a 'girl power' rewriting of history, having this realistic aspect embedded into the plot made for a read that you can easily forget its fiction.

Something I was not expecting going into this book was how much it also deals with issues of race. One of the girls, Frangie, is African-American, and she joins the army not out of a wish to fight, but to become a medic. She also arbors the desire to go to college once the war is over to become a doctor, but is several times reminded of her 'place' and of how rare it is for 'coloured people', especially women, to be able to do so. Her chapters are the ones that really bring forth the cruel reality of war: even in an environment where people are supposedly fighting, united, in defense of their country, people of colour are dismissed as inferior and not allowed to share ranks, medical treatment or even physical space with everyone else.

This book is absolutely brilliant! A though-provoking look into how things could have gone differently if the world had been just a bit more accepting, in a time where acceptance was definitely in short supply. Definitely worth the read, and you will fly through it!

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