Published by Egmont UK on January 28th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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It’s WWII, but not as you remember it from history lessons! This time the girls aren’t stitching socks for the brave boys at the front. Meet Rio Richlin and her friends Frangie Marr and Rainy Schulterman, three of the newest recruits in the US Armed Forces. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the boys from home as they take on Hitler’s army.
In the face of reluctant colonels and sceptical sergeants, the soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about ‘money and looks’. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is and what she can accomplish.
“You’re a girl.”
“No, sir, I’m a sergeant.”
Anyone looking for a grisly re-imagining of one of the darkest times in human history? Because Front Lines is most definitely that. It’s a war story that packs a lot of punch, combining historical fact with an alternate version of history in which a court decision makes American women subject to the draft and eligible to fight on the front lines.
I do want to say one thing, though. It’s a concern I have that I think needs to be said, though it’s not exactly a criticism. I’m a little worried that books like this could further hide women from history – the fact being that over 400,000 U.S. women really did serve with the armed forces during World War II, and this fact is already often forgotten.
I’m confident that Grant’s intentions were good, but I just wanted it to be said.
Anyway, Front Lines contains a lot of elements we would find in traditional war stories – brutal training of soldiers, incredibly young men and women having no idea what they’re getting into, tanks, bombs and poorly-trained medics… but this particular tale is also about social injustice; a reminder that social injustice is at the heart of the Second World War.
Not only has Grant imagined army life and conditions from the POV of three different female soldiers, but he also factors in race and the effect this would have had in the early 1940s. Rio Richlin is a white female from small town California, Frangie Marr is an African-American from Oklahoma, and Rainy Schulterman is a Jewish girl from New York City. It’s actually rare that someone remembers that the story of gender injustice and sexism is not the same across all women.
I didn’t love Grant’s last two sci-fi/fantasy series, but I have been waiting to return to his intricate characterization since the early days of the Gone series. He has this way of paying attention to small details of life that, rather than being tedious, contribute to the realism of his story. I once called him a YA Stephen King and I stand by that comparison. He just blends fiction with fact in such a way that it’s entirely believable.
“PFC Schulterman, your scores are . . . acceptable. This does not alter my opinion that your proper role is at home working in a defense industry and raising children.”
Of course, being true to history, some of the language used in this book will be abhorrent to today’s readers. Grant does not shy away from portraying sexism, racism and antisemitism. Some of the racial or sexual slurs might be discomfiting, but I was thankful for the realism.
And the characters themselves are sympathetic, realistic and flawed. Each has a distinct personality, her own ambition, and her own reason for being there. As with male soldiers, some of these female soldiers were eager to fight and prove themselves, others were desperate for an army paycheck. Grant also pays attention to his secondary characters, creating people who bring humour, distaste and flirtations to the mix (but don’t worry, this book has very little romancing).
I do think that nearly 600 pages might be a little too long for this YA novel. Like Mr King, sometimes the attention to detail – while excellent – drags the book down a little. But it’s a minor complaint. I enjoyed it a lot. Very gritty, dark and sad.
We understood nothing, you see. We thought we were soldiers, but we were still civilians dressed in khaki and OD. None of us had yet felt the fear so overpowering that you shake all the way down to your bones and your bladder empties into your pants and you can’t speak for the chattering of your teeth. None of us had yet seen the red pulsating insides of another human being.