Michael Grant’s ‘Front Lines’ is like having an alternative history lesson, with one heck of a cool teacher. It’s the kind of lesson that when the bell goes you’re sad to leave.
Set in WWII America, ‘Front Lines’ works from the idea that women, as well as men, are being conscripted into the armed forces. The narrator (an unidentified girl recuperating in a field hospital) tells the story of three young girls, all of whom willingly sign up to join the war effort.
Rio, desperate to escape her town and mourning the loss of her sister, follows her friend Jenou to the drafting office, despite being too young.
Frangie, already struggling with a culturally ingrained racism, signs up to help keep a roof over her family’s head and food on their table. She probably suffers the most prejudice and discrimination because she is a female and has different coloured skin.
Rainy, the quick-witted Jewish girl with more than good reason to be wanting to take the fight to Hitler’s doorstep.
The story itself is very classic ‘band of brothers’ in tone, and that’s easy to understand why. Stories of war tear families apart while bonding soldiers, complete strangers, together to make new ones.
And yes, the girls experience some awful cat-calling, prejudice, discrimination, underestimation and dismissal. But for the unit they join it quickly becomes clear that in the face of bullets and blood, gender stops being an issue.
Even if you take nothing else from this book other than this; humans are humans regardless of gender, race or nationality, then you’re still going to be a richer person for it.
The three girls lead very different stories that knit together towards the end, and the timeline in this book is perfectly measured to allow us to see how much they have changed as well as how much they have suffered.
It’s not pretty. It’s not clean. It’s war. The experiences of these young women are both moving and terrifying. Uniquely individual, and yet there is something ‘everyman’ about each story of coping and survival. These girls are not victims, however, they are soldiers, through and through. Scared, brave, and often homesick.
When the book reaches a close, it’s hard not to draw a sigh of relief. For now, we’re allowed to rest, and so are our protagonists. But not for long. The war isn’t over, and neither is this series! We at MP! simply cannot wait to get our paws on book two.
Have you read it yet? Tweet us your thoughts @maximumpopbooks
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