If book hoarding was a crime, lock me up and throw away the key. I am guilty as charged. However, before you do so, please let me explain why I hoarded Front Lines by Michael Grant for so long…
Front Lines by Michael Grant
Publication Date: 28 January 2016
Publisher: Electric Monkey
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.
The reason I have been hoarding Front Lines by Michael Grant for so long is that I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy read. It is an intense book, and it isn’t a book to dip in and out of. Not a book to read on the train to Hull, unfortunately! To make sure I could give the book my full attention, I waited until I had a full day I could spend taking it all in. I love World War II fiction, particularly when it involves Nazis (don’t judge…). The description of this book, with girls being involved in the war delighted my feminist self, and I’m glad I gave it my full attention.
Front Lines is told from the perspective of three young girls who join the army, each with different reasons for doing so. The USA government has passed legislation that allows people to enlist, regardless of gender. Let me introduce the soldier girls of the novel.
First, we have Rio. She is a white girl from the country. In the first few pages of the novel, we see her deal with the loss of her sister who has been killed in action by a bomb. Whilst her reasons for joining the army are a little shallow – she joins purely because her friend is doing so – she embraces the army life as the novel goes on.
Then, we meet Frangie. She is a black girl from the city, I believe. Her reason for enlisting is so that she can send her money home to her family who are struggling due to unemployment. She dreams of being a doctor, or a medic, but knows that it won’t be easy due to her gender and the colour of her skin.
And finally, we have Rainy. She is a white Jewish girl. I believe she enlists because she has ambitions to do something in life. She knows she is intelligent, and indeed is proficient in languages, especially German. She signs up for intelligence rather than combat, unlike Frangie and Rio. I’ll be honest, she was my least favourite of the two.
What I love about Front Lines is that all 3 women are incredibly well written. They have flaws, they are not perfect. They are not 3-dimensional nor are they portrayed in a stereotypical “girly” way. Their strength doesn’t come from masculine qualities. We see them struggle with the weight of the prospect of killing someone, just like anyone would regardless of gender. I did get slightly annoyed with the way Rio’s friend Jenou was portrayed. She was a little too boy-crazy at times, but she had a good heart and cared deeply for Rio. It is a shame that we didn’t get her perspective in the novel, as I believe she would have struggled the most with army life, and would have been a character most could relate to.
Each girl experiences a high amount of sexism and discrimination, but it was Frangie’s story that really tugged at my heart. Including Frangie, a black girl, in the novel is a great example of intersectionality. The level of sexism and in particular racism she experiences is vastly different compared to Rainy and Rio. Whilst they can “answer back” to the men who mock them, Frangie faces violence for simply speaking up. We see her threatened with violence and rape on several occasions, which sadly would be common at the time of the war.
Whilst I appreciate the realism the author sought to bring to the novel, including using language that would be used at the time, I can also understand that it will upset and offend those who have heard those terms in modern times.
In terms of the writing, I really enjoyed the first half of Front Lines where we were getting to know the girls. I did however struggle with the second half that takes us into war, as I’m not familiar with any army terminology. The scenes of war were rather shocking (when I understood what was going on). It was brutal and direct. It certainly pulled no punches.
Is Front Lines a feminist novel? After much consideration, I would like to think so. It is showing women in combat, a job that is male dominated. The three girls were not necessarily strong, masculine women. They were young girls, barely out of school. We see them facing sexism and harassment on a huge scale. The strength they had came from within, and it didn’t come from losing their femininity or taking on more masculine traits.
Front Lines isn’t like anything I have read before. It is unique, ambitious and undoubtedly well written. Whilst the scenes of war may have gone over my head at times, I cannot deny that it an excellent piece of fiction and I therefore awarded it 4/5 stars on GoodReads. I would be open to continuing on with the Soldier Girls series as I am hoping that the girls eventually get a happy ending when the war ends. I will have to brush up on my WW2 knowledge before I do though!
Would you read Front Lines?