Front Lines by Michael Grant
Genre: Alternate History, War
Published by: Electric Monkey
Series: Silver Stars (#2)
Historical reimagining of what it would’ve been like if women had been allowed to fight in World War II? Where do I sign up? Not for the war (that would be my worst nightmare and this book pretty much solidified that!) but for this sweet piece of fiction. I picked up Front Lines from my local library, and, my goodness, am I glad I did. (It also came highly recommended from my friend Amy who is a HUGE Michael Grant fan.) I had zero expectations because I’ve never read anything by this author but the concept made me think of one of my fave movies ‘A League of Their Own’, a true story about women’s baseball during the war.
So, the plot is pretty much the concept. 3 girls from different backgrounds sign up for the war and get placed in different roles depending on their skills. The first half is dedicated to the ‘what life was like in the small town’ and eventually…training! And the second half is their trip across seas to North Africa where the fighting actually begins.
Front Lines has a pretty interesting narrative style, with an omniscient narrator, writing their life story. This narrator states that she doesn’t want to give away her identity so she could be any of the girls we see, and that mystery alone is enough for me to want to keep reading! Then there are a bunch of quotes from different contemporary sources to give you either context for what you’re about to read, or to set the tone. As someone who has grown up in the UK, my knowledge of America’s involvement in WW2 was just that they were late to the party and lent money. But I guess wherever you live, your curriculum will mostly focus on what your own country did. So, this being from three American girls’ perspectives was already interesting and new!
Characters? I loved them all. You’ve got your main three:
RIO: She’s 17 (so too young, but she signs up anyway because her BFF Jenou wants to get the heck out of their small town). I think Rio would very much be the poster child for the women’s contribution to the war effort. You can imagine graphics of her hunched down in the mud with her rifle ready to scare off the enemy. More than anything Rio is sweet and innocent, but she is DETERMINED. She’s not about to let her small size stop her from being successful. As it turns out Rio is pretty skilled with a rifle, so when she ends up in the thick of it, it’s a real emotional battle. (Side note to point out how much I loved that she didn’t obsess over being a monster. So often in YA – especially where the protagonist has a supernatural power – they’re always like ‘I’m a monster. No one will ever love me. I don’t even love myself’, which is all well and good, but Rio knows she is doing her duty. It’s tough but someone had to do it and she signed up. I’m sure this is something that will have a lasting effect on her though, so I look forward to this development.) In Rio’s chapters Grant explores themes of sexism, friendship, and romance. Rio’s the only girl that has some prominent love interests: Strand, a boy from back home who is also joining the war, and Jack, a Scot who came to America and has also joined the fight.
FRANGIE: Frangie is black, so she receives a lot of racial slurs and her chapters really emphasise racism. She’s treated pretty unfairly by the white superiors, but she still has allies. Just like Rio, she’s determined to do the best she can and follows the line of becoming a medic to vary it up. I really loved how her chapters explored how racism affects everyone, but how things had to change because her job was so vital to survival.
RAINY: Her perspectives are probably the most infrequent, but I loved them all the same. Rainy comes from a Jewish family, so her chapters explore anti-Semitism, and she isn’t about to let other people stop her from getting to the top. Rainy has a lot of ambition and intelligence, which gets her into high places and allows her to discover more secret information.
You can tell how much thought went into these characters, so they could be vehicles for great discussion and exploration of three key issues of the time. It’s not even something I explicitly noticed until it came the time to write this review. Front Lines manages to cover SO MUCH in such a relatively short space of time. It’s impressive, and it’s genius.
But among our main three, we have the other characters that make up the misfits team in Rio’s sections. Most importantly Jenou, the coquette and Jack, the comic relief. The cast of characters is so large (and obviously not all of them make it to the end of the book (that’s not a spoiler, this is a war, after all)) it just enriches the whole thing. The girls pretty much stay separate until the very end when circumstances bring them together, so I can’t wait to see their joint dynamic in the next book.
Extra warning: If you have a vivid imagination and a weak stomach, then first of all I’m sorry you’ve been cursed with this combination *pat pat* BUT more importantly you should maybe skim read Frangie’s POVs when they’re in the war zone. It gets gutsy, folks. The imagery is intense. I was completely transported to the front. It was so vivid I might as well have been there. However a weak stomach is no excuse to put off reading this book, because it’s just all-around fabulous. *Throws all the stars at it*