Before I begin the post about this jarringly good book, I do have to admit that I’ve read nearly every word Michael Grant and his wife Katherine Applegate have written since I was about 9 years old, and loved the lot. I blame them almost exclusively for the beginnings of my writing career by making me fall in love with reading. So there’s likely a touch of confirmation bias going on here.
Despite that admission, I have to say that FRONTLINES faced some steep competition. I’ve read several pretty stunning books of late, and at least one in the genre of alternate-history. So as much as it had going for it, there was every chance that it would fail to rise above the teeming mass of literary awesome-juice percolating on my bookshelf. The premise was very basic: World War II where women are not only allowed to enlist—they’re drafted. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the book I was getting into.
Oh, how wrong I was. And shame on me for even thinking it.
Y’see, Michael Grant isn’t the type of writer to pull his punches (seriously he has kids being eaten by all sorts of nightmares…) and some of the most intense villains I’ve ever read have come from the Grant/Applegate camp.
So it really should not have come as any surprise that he would take World War II and take it in directions I wasn’t expecting. In this book you get several narratives, all from very different perspectives, of American women going to war. There’s not a single stone left unturned. Race, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status. Nothing is off limits. This is not a story of women going Xena on the enemy, it’s not even a story of women earning the respect of their nation. It’s the gritty story of just what they would have faced in a World War II-era military.
And most certainly what many women still face today. What struck me hardest with this book is the glaring light it shines on today’s world. Michael Grant is not a fellow who half-asses his research. More importantly—especially for this book—he’s not someone who half-asses the truth. Happy endings are for fairy tales and nothing he nor his wife have written for this age group could be construed as a fairy tale. Every story has its happy points, but they’re punctuated (violently) by the bleak, harsh bullets of reality.
The overt racism and sexism still present in today’s world is dragged out into the light by this book about the past. With America’s latest political landscape, it could not have come at a better time. You might be tempted, while reading FRONTLINES, to think that these subversive forms of prejudice are things of the past. That women are accepted in the military as easily as their male comrades. That African-Americans can become a doctor just as easily as their white colleagues. This book serves as a reminder that, though the world is changing for the better, these fights for equality are by no means over.
I’ll tell you this much: if I have a daughter someday, she sure as hell is going to be reading FRONTLINES. And if I have a son, he’ll be reading it just the same.