Front Lines

I heard about this book on good old Twitter, as Egmont sent out some pretty cool dog tags alongside an intriguing proof of Michael Grant’s latest offering and luckily, I found it on NetGalley. If I’m honest, I haven’t read any of Michael’s work before (please don’t hurt me), but having read Front Lines, I’ll definitely be pre-ordering the next in the series. It’s powerful, evocative, fresh and gripping.

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“Just when you thought Michael Grant’s GONE series had taken us to the darkest limits of his imagination, the evil genius of YA fiction is back to take you to the Front Lines of terror. In the tradition of The Book Thief, Code Name Verity and Between Shades of Gray, Front Lines gives the experience of WWII a new immediacy while playing with the ‘what ifs?’ of history.

It’s WWII, but not as you remember it from history lessons! This time the girls aren’t stitching socks for the brave boys at the front. Meet Rio Richilin and her friends Frangie Marr and Rainy Schulterman, three of the newest recruits in the US Armed Forces. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the boys from home as they take on Hitler’s army.

In the face of reluctant colonels and sceptical sergeants, the soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about ‘money and looks’. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is and what she can accomplish.

Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will delight fans of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. But this is a book for anyone who thought they were more! The story that Michael Grant is calling his best yet.”

The book seems almost too perfectly timed, with the news coming out this week about women joining the men on the front lines of war. I was hooked by the idea as soon as I read the blurb and it’s bloody brilliant. It’s out on 28th January from Egmont and the paperback is only £7.99, can’t go wrong really.

I’ve always loved reading war-time novels, Birdsong has to be one of my favourites, and by introducing females into the narrative, ones who aren’t being left at home but are part of the fight, it becomes normal. Within a few pages I completely forgot that it wasn’t true because these girls showed how capable we are of anything and how it’s really no different from the male experience. Men were probably just as terrified, just as remorseful and at times, just as utterly useless but using women offers the author a chance to show the emotional affect of war. Not because you couldn’t show it with men, but perhaps it’s more easily conveyed with a woman because emotions aren’t seen as weak. (That in itself is a huge bug bear for me, but this isn’t the time to campaign #HeforShe). It was so interesting to watch Rio go from a reserved, polite tomboy to being a future leader and a great shot with a gun but it was equally chilling to watch the war change her. My favourite character is probably Rainy. It sounds twisted to say, but I loved her cruelty, her personal emotions which came out when faced with her enemy as a Jew. It just felt realistic that she would feel that way, would want revenge and it felt like justice all these years later.

The most interesting thing about it was that you didn’t feel like there was any statement about men and women when it got to the actual fighting. You just had people who were great soldiers, some who weren’t as fit and strong, some who were braver and more skilled. You had the misogyny and the racism but in general it just showed the genders as equal on the battlefield and you read it thinking, ‘why the hell DIDN’T we fight?’. Yes, at first it’s about the girls deciding to join up, then train, and we see the gender gaps and notice how it’s different. But when they get out to the front, for the actual fighting, it’s like those boundaries are softened. When it comes down to it, they’re all different people with particular skills which need to be utilised to survive – something we can easily transfer to our day to day life but with less risk of death. The boundaries are still there, but you have to give up your prejudices and use the right people: the person who can shoot, the person who can heal, even if it turns out those people are black or are women. If not, your prejudices could kill you.

It was just a great feeling of empowerment, to finally see young women represented as fierce and strong as well as having emotions. But on top of that, there’s still that harrowing truth that underlines the new feminist message – the horror of war which burns through that is true and as always, in any book set in this period, it’s tough to take. Michael Grant balances this reality, this pain with the new empowering message of these young women because every so often you remember that though the women aren’t real, that battlefield is and the fear and grief sets in.

By the end of the book, I was more than ready for the next. I love how the characters smoothly came together and can’t wait to see what they’ll do next to remake history. I’m also dying to know who the narrator is. At first I thought maybe Jenou? But then there was a line which proved me wrong. Now I’m thinking maybe it’s one of the men from the book… But I love that added feature – the narrator, with their wry humour and omniscience, teasing us with glimpses of what’s going to happen. This is so difficult to write without giving away spoilers but I love knowing where Rio ends up, I love the clues that someday one of them will do a certain thing. It keeps you hooked and I was glued to my Kindle for the days I was reading. It’s immersive and it’s such a fantastic, interesting idea I’m almost kicking myself I didn’t think of it. But I’m glad I didn’t, because Michael Grant is the perfect person to tell this story with his subtle clues, fantastic writing and haunting characters. If I did stars, I’d give it 5 out of 5, or even 6.

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