Review: Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1) – Michael Grant

18743370Title: Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1)
Author: Michael Grant (twitter)
Publisher//Release Date: Katherine Tegen Books// January 26, 2016
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Alternate History
Source: Purchased

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Synopsis: 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.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant has created a masterful alternate history of World War II in Front Lines, the first volume in a groundbreaking series.

Rating: 4.25/5

I bought this book on a whim earlier this year and its been chilling on my shelf ever since and I have no idea why, because it’s a WWII story and its an Alternate History (GIVE ME ALL THE ALTERNATE HISTORY STORIES) and it’s about badass young women. I mean….why I haven’t I read it yet? So, in honor of Veteran’s Day (a little late, I know), I decided to give it a shot.

And I am so mad that I didn’t read it sooner (actually I’m not all that sad because I don’t have that much time to wait for the sequel now), because this book was great. It’s interesting to think about what would have happened if women were able to be drafted and be on the front lines of the military – something that’s rare to this day.

Let’s Break It Down….

What I Liked:

  • The Grittiness.  This book pulls no punches. The characters, both male and female, go through the wringer, especially in the last half of the book. There’s harrowing situations galore that you have no idea how the characters are going to get out of them. There are moments so graphic that I winced and yelled and cried out in terror because OMG someone was just blown up. It’s graphic enough that I wouldn’t be able to watch a movie like this (kind of like how I’ve never seen more than a few minutes of Saving Private Ryan). But this is war – or what I assume war is like and reality isn’t always as clean as we would like it to be.
  • The Characters. Rio, Frangie, and Rainey are all extremely interesting characters in their own right. They come from very different backgrounds and I have a feeling that the three of them will be going through very different journeys. I think Rio might be my favorite – she very much as an everywoman quality to her that I think is very relatable, but I think the long-range scope of her story is the most compelling because it has the potential to get pretty dark (thing American Sniper but with a girl). The supporting cast has a wide array of diverse characters that, while they may not be likeable, they’re still human.
  • The Political Incorrectness. That sounds like a hard thing to highlight as something you like, but it captures what was felt in the era where the book is set. The girls are definitely at a disadvantage because of their position and their sex and there are more than a few who don’t think they should be where they are – even more so for Rainey and Frangie, who, as minorities, have an added bias against them. Racist and sexist terms are tossed around by everyone – including the characters you’re supposed to like; there are moments when the characters that you’ve come to love look at a comrade in arms with distrust because he’s of Japanese decent and it is hard to read. It’s a kind of racism that was casual and normal in that time period – watch any war film from during and after WWII and see how they talk about the Japanese, the Germans and the Italians, how people of my grandparents generation talked about Asians, even to this day. As hard as it is to read about, it would be historically inaccurate to portray the 1940s as a time period without sexism and racism.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The Somewhat Uneven Character Development. This is kind of minor in the long run – especially knowing that there’s another book (or books?) coming in this series. I felt like the first half didn’t have as much focus on Frangie (which was made up for a little in the second half) and that Rainey was basically static for most of the book. I didn’t feel like the had a lot of growth. Again, it’s minor in the long run to me – there’s at least one more book coming and more than enough time to develop all of the characters.
  • Disconnect from Character POV. There are definitely moments where, in the midst of point of view chapters, where the storyteller starts discussing the story as a whole, rather than from the point of view of the character the chapter is focusing on. It has to do with the format – there’s a currently unnamed character telling the story, with the chapters coming from jumping heads between the three leading characters, broken up with letters home from the characters and bigger picture updates from that storyteller. But there are moments within character POV chapters where things are coming from people other than the POV character. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I felt like it disrupted the flow of the story and it took me a while to pinpoint exactly what it was that I didn’t like about it.

All in all, Front Lines is a gritty alternate historical novel with a compelling premise and realistic portrayal of life  – both civilian and military – in WWII, though there are some minor drawbacks in the mechanics of the writing.

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