Front Lines by Michael Grant (2016)

frontThis book feels a lot like historical fiction–but it’s not.  A novel concept make this one memorable.

Recommended grade level: 7-12

Pages:   576 (for ISBN 9780062342157)

Genre(s) and keywords: historical fiction (not exactly, but historical fiction fans should like it), adventure, war

Tone/Style: thoughtful, despairing, gritty

Pace: leisurely

Topics: World War II, military, romantic relationships, prejudice, trauma

Themes: women’s roles, racial tension, the morality of war, how war changes soldiers

Summary:  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. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Dedicated readers interested in World War II and women’s history will enjoy the freshness of this “what-if” story. Those looking for kick-butt but realistic heroines will find four of them here.

Who won’t like this book?: Less avid readers are likely to struggle with the slow pace and page count of this one. 

Other comments: The narration switches between three girls: Rio Richlin (a white girl from California), Frangie Marr (a black girl from Oklahoma), and Rainy Schulterman (a Jewish girl from New York). Of these, at last 50% of the story goes to Rio and the rest is shared by Frangie and Rainy.  I was disappointed not to see more of their stories, particularly the challenges they face as a black female soldier and a Jewish female soldier.

The pace of this book picks up dramatically in the last 30-40%.  A lot of time is given to the girls’ home lives and training before they are deployed.

There is some swearing, but Grant substitutes the most offensive words with alternate-reality replacements: “fugging” and “nigra” are frequently used. The book also contains some real racial slurs.

Sequel(s): Silver Stars (2017)

Readalikes: Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith is another WWII novel addressing race and gender in the U.S. military. Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis has similar themes.  The marketing is accurate in recommending Code Name Verity. Anything by Ruta Sepetys should work well for those seeking dramatic WWII stories with strong female leads. Code Talkers by Joseph Bruchac addresses race and involves code-cracking like what Rainy does.

-Kylie Peters



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