Front Lines by Michael Grant (Front Lines #1) / ★★☆☆☆
One sentence summary: The stories of three different girls are told when the United States allows girls to enlist and become drafted into World War II alongside men.
“Congratulations. You are all now member of the US Army.”
Riot turns slowly to meet Jenou’s unusually serious face.
“Just like that,” Jenou says. “We’re soldiers now.”
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Alternative History
Alternative World War II history is right up my ally, and this one sounded particularly interesting. However, I didn’t find anything innovative or very profound about it. Most of the time I found it rather bland, slow paced, and just too long. This is the first book in a series, but it felt dragged out, like it’s stretching the story to a sequel.
This book follows the stories of three girls, and I found two of them – a black girl named Frangie and a Jewish girl named Rainy – far more interesting to read than the third, a white girl named Rio. I found Frangie and Rainy far more nuanced than Rio. Unfortunately, the book devotes a great deal page time to Rio, and I slugged through and sometimes skimmed many of her chapters in the hopes of getting back to Frangie or Rainy. If this book had been more balanced between them, this book would have been a far more enjoyable read.
I also found this book a bit too…safe, which made it feel like an unrealistic portrayal of war. I wanted more grit, more danger. I never really felt like any of the main characters had their lives on the line. The only time I felt really fearful for a character was when Frangie faced a drunk racist white man, and when she (and others) came face to face with Nazi soldiers, I didn’t find that they were written with nearly as much threat, and I didn’t fear them as the reader. Front Lines didn’t make me feel very scared, or horrified, upset, or moved like a good war book should. Don’t get me wrong- there were come gruesome scenes, and I just may be desensitized by other, more gruesome World War II novels. I debated the influence of its YA label, but I have read other YA World War II books that have been satisfyingly fantastic and horrifying and gritty, with character better fleshed out (i.e. Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys). For someone who may not have read many World War II books, this one might be a good place to start.
Then there was the issue of the romance, which was extremely dry and stereotypical, and I found myself skipping pages of it. If it had been done well, it would have felt important and added emotional stakes to war and death. However, it felt like a typical “wartime romance” that turned into a dreaded love triangle surrounding Rio, the girl I already found most bland. It felt like the kind of romance someone would assume a female reader would enjoy, and written to check off the “romance” box on the list of “Plot points a book (about girls) should have.” I’m a BIT ticked off by it.
Like I said, I did enjoy the plot when it surrounded Frangie or Rainy. I liked reading the individual conflicts they faced surrounding their race and religion, and if this book had been more about them, I would have probably rated this book higher.
If anything, this book makes me want to go find other books about women who actually took part in World War II. This book definitely had some great girl power that makes me want to seek out more.
Frangie and Rainy not only lead more interesting plot lines, but I found them to be much more interesting characters. Frangie is a softhearted, determined black girl from Oklahoma who enlists and becomes a field doctor to make income for her poor family because her dad is unable to work. Rainy is a bold, resolute Jewish girl from New York City with a mission to destroy Nazis by working in intelligence. Their individual adversities in addition the sexism they faced gave the book the depth it deserved.
Rio is a white girl from northern California who enlists after her sister dies in war. Much of the book is spent with her in boot camp and then out on the battlefront, but I just didn’t care for her and I didn’t care for the characters who surrounded her. Like the other girls, she faces troubling sexism, but a lot of her inner conflict surrounds romance and her ability to kill, neither of which felt very nuanced. I felt that she was the “average soldier” which the two marginalized girls were contrasted against.
Since this book is the first in a series, perhaps this is “Rio’s book,” and I hope that the next installment will put Frangie or Rainy center stage.
I was not a fan of the writing style of this novel at all, which was told in third person present tense. The writing could be awkward at times, and it just made me so aware of the present tense. It should have put me in the action, but I spent the book feeling more detached than involved- which contributed to my lack of fear from the warfare.
Mainly, I think there was just too much. There are descriptions that were too long and far too technical for me to care. The process of shooting a gun is explained extensively. There were also moments of telling rather than showing to describe the bonds between characters, which always contributes to lack of emotional connection for me. This book did not need to be over 500 pages.
Was I satisfied?
No. Looking at this review now that I’ve finished it, I may have been a bit hard on this book, but I think a lot of it just stems from disappointment. This book had so much potential, but overall I felt rather bored by it and I walked away feeling unmoved, though that could be because I’ve read a lot of WWII books that have given me high expectations.