(Image from Barnes & Noble)
On September 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act into law. While military conscription had occurred in The United States before, this was the first time it had happened during peacetime. The law required all men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register for the draft. As the probability of the U.S. entering World War II became more evident, the law was expanded to include all men between the ages of 18 and 45. Females were not included.
But what if they had been?
What if women were not only required to register for the draft, but also allowed to voluntarily join the military and serve in combat roles? What if they, like their male counterparts, were given the chance to prove themselves on the front lines during World War II? How would it have changed things, both during the conflict and afterward?
These are the questions asked in Front Lines, the first novel in a new alternate history YA series by Michael Grant. In it, we're introduced to three ordinary women whose lives change irrevocably because of a 1940 ruling which allows them to enlist in the military. Two years later, 16-year-old Rio Richlin, a farmer's daughter from California, lies about her age in order to sign up. Not only does she want revenge against the enemies who killed her soldier sister, but she wants to do her part to serve her country. Frangie Marr, a 17-year-old black girl from Oklahoma, wants to be a doctor. It's a pipe dream, of course, but one she might be able to realize—to some degree, at least—by getting medic training and experience in the Armed Forces. Besides, her family desperately needs the money she can earn as a soldier. Knowing her double minority status will make her a particularly vulnerable target, Frangie signs up anyway. Rainy Schulterman, an 18-year-old Jewish woman from New York City's Lower East Side, wants her chance to outwit the Nazis who are systematically murdering her people in Europe. Training to be an intelligence officer is a challenging but fulfilling way to use her smarts against the seemingly unstoppable enemy.
As Rio, Frangie, and Rainy make their way through enlistment, boot camp, advanced training, and war itself, they'll find challenges and difficulties around every corner. Not only will they battle flagrant discrimination, but they'll also endure the pain, fatigue, fear, homesickness, and self-doubt that plagues every soldier. Along the way, however, they'll discover the vast potential that lies within each of them—and the courage to unfurl it in defense of the country they love.
I'm always intrigued by World War II novels, especially those written for teens. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys all stand out as excellent stories that bring the conflict, with all its inherent drama, to life. Even among these titles, though, Front Lines stands out. Its unique premise makes it different from the rest. While the story itself may not be all that original, Grant keeps it exciting by throwing plenty of conflict into the characters' paths. The front lines action doesn't begin until 3/4 of the way through the book, but the first 300 pages still managed to keep my attention. More or less. Yes, it feels long in places and no, it isn't as mesmerizing as I wanted it to be, but I still enjoyed Front Lines. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith; and Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence, blood/gore, language (no F-bombs—the word "fug" is used as a substitute), and sensuality/sexual innuendo