Series: Soldier Girl #1
Published by Harper Collins on January 26, 2016
Genres: historical, science fiction
Pages: 576 pages
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Perfect for fans of The Book Thief and Code Name Verity, New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes an epic, genre-bending, and transformative new series that reimagines World War II with girl soldiers fighting on the front lines.
World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
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: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.
These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.
What if the draft had been extended to young women in WWII as well as men? That’s the premise of Michael Grant’s new book, Front Lines, and that’s pretty much all I needed to know before making grabby hands at it at NCTE this year.
I saw the cover, saw the tagline – “she’s fighting for her country” – and was like, oh yes, I shall be reading you, book. I mean, I will read alternate histories any day of the week and if they’re alternate histories that focus on women’s experiences, then hell yes, I’m there. And as far as that goes, Front Lines did not disappoint!
So Front Lines follows three young women – Rio, Frangie, and Rainy – as they enlist in the army and are shipped overseas. They have different motivations: Rio, a white girl from California, wants to do her part (but is also talked into it by her friend Jenou, who also joins up); Frangie, an African-American girl from Oklahoma who wants to be a doctor, signs up to earn money for her family; and Rainy, a Jewish girl from New York, wants to defeat Nazis through intelligence work.
Although they end up following different paths, these paths occasionally intersect. These were some of my favorite moments in the book. Here’s why: because although the characters’ story arcs are different, they’re all smart, dedicated, and determined to adapt to environments that range from mildly to downright hostile to them. When they’re together, though, they challenge, support, and stand up for each other, which was pretty cool. For example, View Spoiler » memorably, when a Nazi officer insults Rainy at the end of the book, Rio, who is a sharpshooter, smacks him in the face with her gun. This is not a nonviolent book. « Hide Spoiler
Much of Front Lines is spent in training and bringing all the characters to one place where their storylines converge, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more of this in the next book in the series. I hope that the series continues to develop the relationships between the three (or four, if you count Jenou) main characters now that they’ve been properly introduced, because this was a thing I could have really used more of – Rio has a strong relationship with Jenou, but, like, outside of potential love interests, the supporting cast isn’t really strong (which makes sense in terms of page-time when you have three protagonists, but can feel isolating for the individual protagonists). ::crosses fingers::
Here’s what else I liked about Front Lines: I liked that Rio, Rainy, and Frangie are all really skillful at their roles in the army. Rio joins up on what seems like a whim only to discover that lo and behold, she’s an amazing sharpshooter; Rainy has a good mind for army intelligence; Frangie joins to help her family but becomes a gifted and super brave medic. I loved this. And again, I wanted more of it. We start to see the beginnings of potential conflict in this book – what does it mean for them to be gifted in this way? what will it mean for their relationships with their family? or their relationships with men? will they be able to seamlessly slide back into the lives they knew before after what they’ve seen? But because this is the first book of a series, these questions are very much still left open to further exploration.
What I was less keen on in Front Lines: okay, I could have used less romance. I felt like I could identify the moment when a love interest for each young woman entered the scene, and it felt a little predictable. It’s not that I don’t care about romance or don’t think it’s an important part of someone’s emotional life, it’s just that it almost felt overemphasized here? I mean, the cliffhanger we’re left on is a series of questions from the narrator that is basically like this (I’m paraphrasing): “Who will Rio end up with? Will it be Jonathan? Or George? What about Rainy? Will she find love? And what of Frangie and her handsome lieutenant?” (I’m making this up to avoid spoilers, but you get the gist.) And, eh, in a book about ladies on the front lines, these are not the most pressing questions that I have about the next book! I want to know how Rio is going to handle the emotional impact of discovering that she is super good at killing people! I want to know about Rainy’s brother! I want to know about whether Frangie gets to be a doctor or not and how she’s dealing with View Spoiler » having been captured by the Germans at the end of the book! « Hide Spoiler I could care less about romance at this juncture!! But anyway. We still don’t know who’s narrating the book to us – we know it’s someone who knows Rio and is at a hospital with her – so it’s possible that this is their bias rather than the book’s – but I was still peeved.
(Also, I want Cat to be gay. I’m saying it now so you know.)
A final note: because of the historical period, the author’s chosen to include a fair amount of racist, sexist, and anti-semitic language, and the threat of sexual violence occurs more than once, so, heads-up.
Anyway. Has anyone else read this? Do you want to? I’d definitely recommend it – I think it’s a strong start to the series, and I’m curious to see where it goes.