Front Lines by Michael Grant. January 26, 2016. Katherine Tegen Books, 576 p. ISBN: 9780062342157. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 890.
Teenage witch Cam isn’t crazy about the idea of learning magic. She’d rather be no witch than a bad one. But when a trio of her mother’s wicked witch friends decide to wreak havoc in her high school, Cam has no choice but to try to stop them.
Esmerelda is the mean girl of the witches. Valda likes to drop anvils on people’s heads. And Malkin—well, Malkin is just plain terrifying. Their idea of fun is a little game—they each pick a student from Cam’s high school and compete to see who can make their teen the most miserable. But Cam suspects one of the witches may have an ulterior motive…which means someone at school could be in worse danger yet.
Now Cam’s learning invisibility spells, dodging exploding cars, and pondering the ethics of love potions. All while trying to keep her grades up and go on a first date with her crush. If the witches don’t get him first, that is.
Can’t a good witch ever catch a break?
Part of Series: Front Lines (Book 1)
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Racial taunts; Harsh realities of war; Sexual harassment
Booklist starred (October 15, 2015 (Vol. 112, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. In many ways, Grant’s latest feels like an old-fashioned war novel—it begins with the soon-to-be soldiers at home, worrying about what they are going to face, and saying good-bye to family. Then they arrive at boot camp, building both combat skills and bonhomie. Finally, they find themselves in the thick of it, unprepared for the gravity of death, both witnessing it and serving it, while tapping heretofore unknown reserves of fortitude, resilience, and stony-eyed vengeance. The only difference, and it’s a big one, is that women are in the battle ranks. Though women are not yet being conscripted in this alternate history of WWII, Rio, Jenou, Frangie, and Rainy sign up anyway. Rio’s feeling a bit listless after her sister dies in the battle of Pearl Harbor, and her best friend, Jenou, makes a convincing case for signing up. Jenou says she wants to meet handsome officers, though in truth, she is desperate to escape her rocky home life. Frangie, an African American girl in Oklahoma, sees enlisting as an opportunity to get medical training she otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for. Jewish Rainy is smart, capable, fluent in German, and wants to kill Nazis. Just because women are permitted to enlist, however, doesn’t mean they are treated any more fairly. It’s abundantly clear that Grant has done an impressive amount of research, not only into battle movements and period details—which are exhaustive, vivid, and clearly, grippingly written—but also the prevailing attitudes. In keeping with the historical period, the women face down plenty of prejudice, and Grant doesn’t shy away from ugly language, particularly regarding Frangie, who endures a deluge of hateful slurs and more than one threat of rape. While there are enough military men open to women in their ranks, enlisting alone can’t change deeply ingrained beliefs. There’s no magical eraser for racism or misogyny here, except the rigors of the battlefield, where they prove their mettle. The history is certainly illuminating and fascinating, but where Grant excels even more is in the tight, propulsive, and immersive storytelling and compelling bonds among the multifaceted characters. Grant alternates among the four young women, interspersing their stories with letters and news bulletin–like summaries of historical events, framing the whole thing with commentary from the unnamed narrator, who sits typing the story in a military hospital, offering brief glimpses of the near future. Most of the pages are dedicated to Rio and Jenou, who blessedly get to stay together, ending up in a mixed-company platoon in North Africa. Rainy leaves New York with a stopover in intelligence training before heading to Tunisia to translate incoming communiqués. Frangie heads to North Africa as a medic with an all-black battalion. Finally, the four women meet at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, grittier, bloodier, and tougher than when they set out. Though it’s an epic story with a page count to match, the dynamic characters and urgent plot never get lost in the enormity of the historical moment. Grant’s writing is remarkably tidy, cultivating a staggering amount of feeling out of only a few lines, and imbuing each figure with such depth and personality that, even if a character gets less than two total pages of attention, his or her death is utterly, completely devastating. This is a story about soldiers, and those soldiers never take a backseat to history. Given current headlines about women in combat, it’s natural to assume this novel has an agenda, but Grant trumpets no cause, and while he makes a huge change to WWII history, he so unobtrusively weaves it throughout the story it’s easy to forget that, except in a few special cases, women weren’t fighting alongside men. Rio and Jenou drink and smoke and trash talk just as much as the men in their …
Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2015)
Three young women supply a gritty grunt’s-eye view of World War II in the opener to an ultrahistory series. After a court decision declares women eligible for combat, aimless California farmer’s daughter Rio Richlin volunteers for the Army, partly to avenge her sister’s death but mostly to keep her best friend company. Diminutive, compassionate, and determined, African-American Frangie Marr enlists for the paycheck, but she also hopes for medical training. And Jewish Rainy Schulterman just wants to pour all her ferocious intelligence and steely will into killing Nazis. Switching among these three viewpoints, the narrative slowly constructs intimate portraits of each, as the “soldier girls” are tested in body and spirit, overcoming laziness, fear, and cockiness. They suffer through boredom, rough conditions, and incompetent commanders as well as routine sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism (authentically, highly offensive language is employed throughout). A framing device ponderous with foreshadowing–along with such standard teen tropes as love triangles and family secrets–keeps the plot moving, but it’s the immersive, quotidian details that set up the gripping climax amid the chaos of combat. Bestselling science-fiction author Grant did his research (an extensive bibliography is provided), but the odd and likely unintended consequence of his premise is the erasure of thousands of military women who historically served and fought and died. Still, an engrossing portrayal of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. (Alternate history. 14 & up)
About the Author
Michael Grant is married to Katherine (K.A.) Applegate. They’ve been together for 36 years. Which doesn’t say much for Katherine’s judgment does it? And they’ve been writing for 25ish years, sometimes as partners — Boyfriends/Girlfriends, Animorphs, Everworld — and sometimes on their own.
Michael and Katherine have two kids, Jake 18 and Julia 16. (Feet tall. Get it? 16 feet tall? Ah hah hah. Yeah, okay: not funny.) Anyway, the point is that Michael Grant is the author or co-author of 150 books. Yeah: 150, including most recently the critically-acclaimed Front Lines, and of course the also critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Gone series
Her website is www.michaelgrantbooks.co.uk.
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