Soldier Girl #1: Front Lines by Michael Grant (Electric Monkey)

Just when you thought Michael Grant’s GONE series had taken us to the darkest limits of his imagination, the evil genius of YA fiction is back to take you to the Front Lines of terror. In the tradition of The Book Thief, Code Name Verity and Between Shades of Gray, Front Lines gives the experience of WWII a new immediacy while playing with the ‘what ifs?’ of history.

It’s WWII, but not as you remember it from history lessons! This time the girls aren’t stitching socks for the brave boys at the front. Meet Rio Richilin and her friends Frangie Marr and Rainy Schulterman, three of the newest recruits in the US Armed Forces. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the boys from home as they take on Hitler’s army.

In the face of reluctant colonels and sceptical sergeants, the soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about ‘money and looks’. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is and what she can accomplish

The first in an exciting new trilogy. Front Lines is the saga of a modern heroine in an alternate past that could only have come from the man who gave us GONE, BZRK, and Messenger of Fear. Michael Grant has lived an exciting, fast-paced life. He moved in with his wife Katherine after only 24 hours. He has co-authored over 160 books but promises that everything he writes is like nothing you’ve ever read before!

Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will delight fans of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. But this is a book for anyone who thought they were more! The story that Michael Grant is calling his best yet.”

Seeing authors whose work you like reading switch genre is an interesting experiment and you never quite know how well they’re going to fare. Michael Grant’s Gone series blew me away as one of my favourite set of young adult releases, which managed to be pretty entertaining as it got darker and darker. So Michael Grant’s brand new Soldier Girl series was always going to be a must read for me and thankfully, It didn’t disappoint, already offering a strong contender for an awesome young adult novel that presents an alternate look into World War 2. It’s not quite as a drastic alternate history as Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, where the Nazis won, but It offers a world where female soldiers were allowed to join up with the US Military following a court decision that women are eligible for service. As a result, Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are thrust headfirst into the war, volunteering for their own reasons, whether it be for the honour of Rio’s sister, the money for Frangie’s family or just simply the death of Germans for Rainy Schulterman, they’re thrust into one of the darkest conflicts in human history and that is where Front Lines picks up.

The book compares Front Lines to The Book Thief and Code Name Verity and whilst I haven’t read the latter, I would probably agree with the comparison to the former. The historical fiction combined with historical fact goes some way to creating an epic conflict that’s written and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the Second World War. It’s very different from Grant’s Gone books, which had a death toll of its own, but Front Lines is possibly just as dark if not darker. Yes, it uses a lot of traditional war tropes like the rookie soldiers not knowing what they’re getting into, tank battles and more, but the book itself also looks at social injustice, and tackles many other themes such as sexism, racism and more, rather than just being a straightforward war story, and as a result, that extra depth helps the novel stand out just a bit more.

If you’re looking for gritty, dark fiction then Front Lines will no doubt be right up your street. The characters are pulled off just as well as in Michael Grant’s Gone series and the likes of Rainy, Frangie and Rio all being well developed and well-rounded protagonists. The action is near constant and the vivid detail that Grant creates really helps flesh out the atmosphere, allowing for a strong, powerful read that shouldn’t disappoint readers. This does mean however that it is quite long for a young adult novel, and the pacing may be slow in parts, but that doesn’t mean that you should shy away from the book, as it’s a strong, captivating read that I cannot help but recommend. Is it an early contender for one of the best young adult novels of 2016? We’ll have to wait and see.

VERDICT: 8/10

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