Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: Front Lines

Front Lines (Soldier Girl, book one)
By Michael Grant

Published January 26, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Reviewed from e-ARC

Thanks to a court decision, women are now eligible to join the armed forces, just in time for America's involvement in World War II. On the heels of that decision, three young women will enlist. Each will have her reasons and each will discover that she had no idea what she was getting into.

Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited about this book from the moment I heard about it. Alternate history is kind of my jam if done well and I finally finished reading Grant's epic Gone series, so I was primed to see what he could do with a story like this one. Let me cut to the chase: I really enjoyed this.

Maybe the best indication of how much I liked this is how surprised I was when I discovered it's nearly 600 pages long (though, given his other books, maybe I shouldn't have been). Because of formatting, books are usually shorter in ARC form than their final copy would be, so, once again, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. But really, this book flew by for me. I enjoyed every minute of reading it. I really loved the characters - all of them - though I wish they were given equal amounts of viewpoint time. Once again, Grant is tackling a lot of complicated issues here - politics, war, sexism, racism, religion, etc. Mostly, they are handled in thought-provoking ways. I think this book would be great for lots of discussions and I'd be really interested to hear what an actual teenager thought about it. I'm very much looking forward to reading more in this series.

However, I don't want to write this review without acknowledging a few things. First, this book does indeed deal with a lot of sensitive issues and it is also set during a particular moment in time. In light of so many recent discussions of what historical fiction owes its readers with regards to these sensitive topics, I'll say that it isn't outside my realm of comprehension that this book could face some criticism. This seems unlikely, given the author (let's be honest, men don't generally face nearly as much criticism as women), but I still see the possibility. And, speaking of the author, Grant has taken it upon himself to insert his opinion in many of the aforementioned discussions. His opinion has not always painted him in the best light to me, as a general fan of his work. And his opinion has contributed to a certain amount of guilt I feel over having enjoyed this book. Just typing that sentence seems unbelievable to me, because I don't believe in things like "guilty pleasure reads" - read whatever you damn well like and stuff everyone who judges you for it. But I can't deny that the guilt is there. After all, Grant is a white man, writing a series about three female protagonists, one of color. How much can he really know their experience, even in the alternate reality he's created?

I also don't want this review to go by without pointing out a ridiculous bit that I couldn't help but notice. Rio, the main character, is frequently described as a girl familiar with manual labor, not a delicate flower, but a girl with muscles. Later in the book, her army gear is described as weighing 35 pounds, one-third of what she herself weighs. If we take this at its literal word, Rio would weigh 105 pounds. Then, just a bit later, she's described as standing 5'8" tall. I can't profess to have seen every body type in the world and really, I'd rather my stories didn't include specific measurements such as these, but those descriptions don't add up in my mind to a realistic character. I wish Grant had left them out altogether; they distract much more than they add anything to Rio's character.

So, a book I enjoyed but one I feel conflicted about enjoying. Am I silly for feeling this way? Or am I going to get flack for it? I don't know, but I've always tried for honesty here (even among the handful of folks who read this), so there you have it.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

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