Front Lines (Soldier Girl, #1) by Michael Grant

Received from NetGalley for review.

‘Must be strange, being a girl and all.’
‘No, sir. I’ve been a girl my whole life.’

Michael Grant’s Front Lines reimagines World War II with American women conscripted and enlisting alongside men, and does not shy away from the massive amount of sexism and unwanted opinions that would likely have accompanied it in the 1940’s (don’t forget that women did play a massive part in the war though, folks). It is gritty and realistic, and Grant has not tried to sugar coat anything; there is flagrant sexism and racism, and lots of it. If you are easily upset by these things and the language of the time, I suggest you avoid this book – it is war and it is nasty, on every level.

The narrative follows four women as they join the army: Rio, who has just lost her older sister in a Naval attack; Jenou, Rio’s best friend who wants to escape her family and small town life; Frangie, a young black girl who just wants to help her family; Rainy, a very intelligent Jewish girl who takes no shit. The story follows the girls as they navigate army life – Rio and Jenou as foot soldiers, Frangie as a medic, and Rainy in Intelligence. They all have to deal with varying levels of discrimination against their gender, colour, or religion, and it’s a sad reminder that some people actually still think like this.

Each character is sassy, strong, and most importantly, real – their lives and experiences are all different and Grant does not forget this, giving each character a distinctive voice and personality. Grant also manages to craft many memorable secondary characters; no one is introduced without a purpose, they don’t disappear into nothingness without having made some kind of impression. I found that there was a little too much focus on Rio’s narrative, however – towards the end Rainy and Frangie’s narratives all but disappear, and it made me wonder if their stories are something that will be explored further in later books.

My only real complaint about this book is that it is too long – a good hundred pages could have been cut and no difference would have been made, as the story becomes very long and winding once the girls ship out. For a book marketed as young adult, it became a bit much and my interest flagged towards the end. Having said that, Grant has written a very skilful account of what the war could have been like and I am grateful for the realism with which he approached it. You won’t find a happy story here, but you will find one that sticks very close to the truth and deals with issues of discrimination that are still well and truly alive today.

Read: January 16th-29th 2016

4/5 stars

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