Title: Front Lines
Author: Michael Grant
Series: Soldier Girl #1
Genre: YA Alternative History
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.
Source: Review copy from Electric Monkey via Amazon Vine
What if women had been soldiers in the US army during WW2? That’s the question this book poses, and it does it really well. It neither shies away from the realities of war, nor the prejudices of the time, but in doing so provides some fascinating characters with very different motives for going to war.
Rio is the character we see most in this book. She’s an ordinary, everyday teenager who doesn’t really know what she wants from life and can be easily influenced by her friends. Which is how she ends up going to war. She also has the standard soldiering experience – making new friends and a few enemies, training hard, questioning her own courage and of course, facing the enemy. She changes more than any other character in the book, and although I wasn’t ever quite sure that I liked her (she didn’t have enough personality for me to get that far, unlike some of her friends), I did find her story compelling.
Like Rainy, the most confident and capable character in the book who has a very different experience of warfare, although I have to admit I never really liked her much either, nor understood what her reasons were for going to war. She’s smart, but a little too intelligent and cold. She’s not there to make friends, she wants to kill Nazis and she wants to get involved. Admirable, but it’ll be interesting to see how her view of everything changes in future books.
Then there’s Frangie, who I liked the most. She doesn’t want to go to war, but her family needs the money and she’s hoping she might be able to try for a medic. She’s short and not particularly strong, but I loved her determination and her competence under pressure. Although all three girls face plenty of discrimination along the way, Frangie is the one who feels it most, being both black and female. It makes for uncomfortable reading, what both she and the rest of the POC soldiers faced (because although the presence of women soldiers might be made up, the segregation of the US army in WW2 was not), but her dignity and bravery throughout more than prove the prejudicial attitudes wrong.
That’s one of the strengths of this book. It never shies away from how things were then, whether it’s the violence of war or attitudes of racism, sexism and antisemitism, showing both how much and how little the world has changed in seventy years. Along with the history, which despite the addition of women in the army, doesn’t try to rewrite what actually happened. This isn’t Hollywood history and I really appreciated how much research the author has clearly done.
However, I did find it hard to settle into at first. The writing style is third person omniscient, taking an overview of each scene rather than seeing it through any one character’s eyes. This actually works really well for the most part, but right at the beginning, when each character was being introduced, every new chapter started with a long description about the people, the place and all kinds of extra detail that kept pulling me out of the story. I’d just be getting back into it, getting to know the characters and feeling interested in their troubles, then the chapter would end and I’d be back out of the story and struggling to be interested again.
It doesn’t help that the pace of the first quarter is very slow, establishing the girls, their families and the differences in their lives that cause them to sign up. As they moved onto training I found it easier to get into, though it was still slow. Part Two, however, I found utterly absorbing as the pace and action picks up. That’s when this book really took off for me, putting each girl into the war and giving them a chance to prove just what they were capable of. It’s hard reading at times, but well worth the effort.
Overall, this is a great read. The characters are complicated and interesting, the history is amazingly detailed and it’s all handled really well. If you love history, then you should enjoy it. This is not just a book for girls either, whether you’re older or male, there’s plenty to be enjoyed and to learn from here – if only it’s to see the world from a different perspective. Grant has done an excellent job, in my opinion, of not only portraying prejudice, but the different layers faced by women of different social levels, race and religion. For that side alone this book is worth reading.
It’s long for a YA book, and the topics included will not be to everyone’s taste or comfortable to read, but this is a powerful beginning to this series. I can forgive the slow beginning because by the end I couldn’t put it down. Looking forward to the next one already.
Front Lines is Out Now!
Visit Michael Grant for more details.