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They Can Do It!

Michael Grant’s Front Lines imagines a world in which women were allowed—and drafted—to fight in WWII.

They Can Do It!

BOOK REPORT for Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1) by Michael Grant

Cover Story: Propaganda
BFF Charm: Maybe x 4
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Sidelines
Trigger Warnings: Mistreatment of Women, Attempted Rape
Bonus Factor: Equality
Anti-Bonus Factor: Period-Accurate Slang
Relationship Status: Waiting for Your Letter

Cover Story: Propaganda

I love the imagery on this cover, and the way it plays on the actual propaganda posters of the WWII era while getting the plot of the book across. Sadly, the amount of text detracts from the power of said image, and it’s, overall, a little too busy to really make the impact that it could have.

The Deal:

In an alternate version of history, a 1940 Supreme Court case makes it possible for women to enlist or be drafted in the U.S. military. Among the young women who join are Rio Richlin and Jenou Castain from a small town in northern California; Frangie Marr from Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Rainy Schulterman from New York City. Each has different reasons for joining up, different ideas of what military life is like, and different paths to get to the front lines, but they all end up there—for better or worse.

BFF Charm: Maybe x 4

All of the women in Front Lines enlist, rather than being drafted, which shows from the very start that they’re dedicated individuals who want to do what they can to support their country and their families. Because the chapters are told from the POVs of Rio, Frangie, and Rainy, you get to know these girls pretty well. That said, I had a bit of trouble really connecting with any of them. Perhaps it’s because I’m so far removed from their situations that it was hard for me to understand, or maybe it was that the girls personalities were a little flatter than I would have expected from a book written about such an emotionally charged era.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Only one of the women in Front Lines has any sort of real relationship over the course of the story, which is understandable given that they’re preparing for and then on the front lines of war. But honestly, her “guy” is pretty lame, and I feel like she’s holding onto him out of familiarity or a sense of duty, rather than really liking him. There’s another opportunity that presents itself, but I don’t want to give too much away. (For those of you who’ve read the book, or will read the book: I’m totally team Jack.)

Talky Talk: On the Sidelines

The WWII subject matter of Front Lines is both powerful and familiar. Although I wasn’t around during WWII, nor would I have been able to fight if I were, I have seen or read many a film, TV show, or book that deals with the time period. It was brutal, for everyone. Personally, being that I am a woman, Front Lines is made even more powerful because I could more easily envision myself in the place of the characters.

The book is divided into two sections—one pre-war and one at the start of the women’s actual fighting experience—and features a prologue and epilogue written by a nameless narrator who tells readers she’s here to tell the story of Rio, Jenou, Frangie and Rainy. It lends an authenticity to the story, and ties in well with other versions of WWII stories that are often told from a somewhat removed perspective, at least to start (e.g., Band of Brothers). However, this semi-detached quality never quite goes away. Even when literally in the trenches with the girls, I never felt fully invested in or connected to their experiences. Michael Grant has written a believable account of women in wartime, and I applaud the idea. I was just hoping to be sucked in, to get emotional for the girls’ plights; to have real, visceral reactions to their experiences. Unfortunately, the story never quite got me there.

Trigger Warnings: Mistreatment of Women, Attempted Rape

A lot of the guys in this book are awful people, and especially terrible toward the woman—sometimes just because they’re female, others because they’re not “typical white girls.” (Rainy is Jewish, and Frangie is a black girl from a very poor family.) Nothing ever gets too out of hand, but do be warned that there are many rough parts in this story.

Bonus Factor: Equality

I’m having a bit of an internal battle when it comes to thinking about women fighting in WWII. On the one hand—yay, equality! On the other—Yikes, war! But I’m leaning more toward the positive side, because it’s not like women are less able to fight. It’s nice to read a story in which they were even given the chance.

Semi-related, there’s a great bit of dialogue in the book in which a troop is discussing how to transport a prisoner back to base that made me chuckle:

“Might not be room for the prisoner, though,” Rainy says.
“Might not be.”
“Might be you could tie him to the bumper. He looks healthy enough to run.”
“Now I know why they never let women fight wars,” Sergeant Garaman says. “Too mean.”

Anti-Bonus Factor: Period-Accurate Slang

Front Lines is set at the time of America’s entrance into WWII. So tensions are extremely high, particularly with the Germans and the Japanese. Additionally, things are rough between races. Characters in the book frequently refer to certain groups of people by the terrible slang names of the era. I applaud Grant for being accurate to the time, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read, particularly when they’re repeated so often.

Casting Call:

These women are all much older than the girls in the story, who are all under 20, but I went with how I pictured them in my head. Also, y’all know Hollywood would do the same thing.

Lizzie Caplan as Rio

Juno Temple as Jenou

Emmanuelle Chriqui as Rainy

Lupita Nyong’o as Frangie

Relationship Status: Waiting for Your Letter

Although I’m not fully invested in your characters, Book, I still definitely want to know what happens to them, who finds happiness, if anyone meets an untimely end. So send me a letter when the fighting dies down a bit. I’ll do my best to read through the censor’s redactions.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Katherine Tegen Books, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Front Lines is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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