My overriding feeling right now is that there is nothing to read. That’s because I sat up late, wanting to finish Michael Grant’s Front Lines.
What a book! I strongly suspect it’s the best Michael has written, which is why I had to sit up to finish the book, and why I feel so empty now, and why I’d like to tie him to his writing chair and tell him to hurry up with the next book.
I have spent countless hours in the trenches of WWI, as a soldier and nearby as a nurse, in many fantastic war novels for young readers. I have read loads of WWII novels as well. But what struck me this week was that they are the war as seen from England, or maybe Germany, and even Italy, say. I’ve read many pilot stories (among them my second favourite book ever, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein), and I’ve been at sea, and I know about food rationing and clever dogs and so on. Americans are the dashing heroes who bring oranges and nylon stockings and are always riding in as the cavalry, being gallant and fun.
In Front Lines, for the first time, I have crawled in the desert with my rifle, hungry and dirty and desperately tired. And I have done this both because Michael’s book is the first I’ve read that takes you to the non-gallant places where war was fought, and also because of his genius idea to have women drafted.
I liked the idea when he described it to me in the summer, and I absolutely love it now that I’ve read the first book. It is so simple, while being so clever and so moving.
We meet four American girls, not all of them even of age to volunteer, who sign up to go to war. Two friends from a small Californian town, a tiny black girl who dreams of becoming a doctor but is so poor she signs up to feed her parents, and a Jewish New York girl with plenty of ambition.
The reader accompanies them to where they volunteer, and then on to camp where they learn to become soldiers, meeting prejudice from older military personnel as well as the young men who have joined up, who all feel girls have no place in the army or at war. To be Jewish, or black, is even worse, and there is plenty of name-calling.
Over time you come to half accept even the more moronic members of the group of soldiers, just as the girl soldiers do; when fighting and suffering together there is a certain unavoidable camaraderie. People die, and the new young soldiers witness death wherever they go.
This is so realistic and so very interesting, and above all so tremendously exciting. I simply want the second book to be here now!
(In the bibliography Michael mentions reading Code Name Verity while writing Front Lines, and trying to make his book be as good as Elizabeth’s. He’s close. Very close indeed.)