Friday, February 19, 2016

Teen review: Alternate History

Front Lines
by Michael Grant
540 Pages
Fiction / alternative history / historical fiction?
Grade recommendation: high school

Reviewed by Kira T., grade 9

What if women had been allowed to fight alongside men during the deadliest war in history? Michael Grant answers this question through his novel, Front Lines, which follows three teenage girls who enlist in the United States Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Rio Richlin fights on the front lines to avenge her sister; Frangie Marr learns to be a medic to keep her family off the streets; and Rainy Schluterman, a Jewish girl, trains in an elite intelligence unit in hopes of bringing down Hitler.

The wide array of characters and different plotlines all compiled into one story make for a lengthy read. The book covers many mature topics, including sexism, racism, and (as you would expect from a book centered on World War II, alternate history or not) violence. Some chapters depict the battles in such graphic detail that I was left a bit stunned, though I was all the more anxious to read what happened next. There are also aspects of psychological struggle, especially from Rio’s chapters, in which the characters fight to keep their sanity amidst unimaginable terror. As a result, this book can be a bit heavy in terms of mature themes, so I wouldn't recommend it to grades 8 and younger. However, the gritty plot of Front Lines made it quite hard to put down. The more I learned about the horrifying situations into which the characters were inserted, the more I could relate to and root for them throughout their remarkable journeys.

The characters, specifically the three protagonists, are what truly made the book an incredible read for me. Every character has a unique background and personality, so the reader should be able to find at least one with whom they can really connect. I was also captivated by the character development exhibited by all of the girls. It was incredibly rewarding to see how far the characters had all matured by the last chapters. 

Overall, I would rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I do, however, encourage the reader to remember that while Front Lines is a fictional, alternate history novel, thousands of women actually did bravely fight for the United States during World War II. 

Editor's note: For those interested in the details of that last statement, here are short biographies of eight of those women, and here is a great resource (the National World War II Museum website) about more of them. This book was just published at the end of January, so while we have ordered it, it isn't available at the library yet, but will be soon! (just in time for Women's History Month in March)

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