Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 978-1250023278
Trade Paperback, $15.99, 432 pages
The horror story of the US soldier accused of murdering 17 innocent civilians in Afghanistan blares on the nightly news and we all have a difficult time understanding how this could happen. The accused soldier is on his fourth deployment, something unheard of in previous wars.
In author Kristin Hannah's 19th novel, Home Front, a lawyer married to a female National Guard Black Hawk helicopter pilot is defending a soldier accused of snapping and killing his wife. When she wrote the book, I can't imagine that Hannah could have known just how timely her novel would be.
Michael, the lawyer, has been depressed since he lost his father and law partner recently. His wife Jolene, who lost her parents when she was 18, goes through life always looking for the positive. She and her best friend and neighbor Tami fly choppers for the National Guard.
Tami's husband and 12 year old son are proud of her and the work she does. Michael doesn't understand why Jolene wants to be a soldier; they have two daughters- Betsy, 12 years old and Lulu, four years old- and he thinks she should leave the Guard.
After Michael refuses to attend his wife's birthday party at the Guard base, Jolene hides her disappointment again. Then Michael tells her that no longer loves her. Jolene is devastated and can't understand what has happened.
Jolene and Tami's unit gets called up and off to Iraq they go for a year's deployment. Michael is angry that he has to change his routine to take care of his daughters, and he resents the detailed binders of information that Jolene has left for him. Schedules of meals, doctor's appointments, and household maintenance are all laid out by the efficient Jolene.
Hannah does an amazing job showing how these families' lives are turned upside down, and having the wives as the deployed soldiers and the husbands left behind to handle the home front made this novel that much more interesting. The contrast between Tami's supportive husband and Michael is jarring.
We see how hard it is for those left behind and how difficult it is for forty-something women in a war zone. Jolene tries to protect her family by downplaying the danger, and Michael is willing to play along.
She writes emails to her daughters, but nothing to Michael, believing that their marriage is over. Michael makes no effort to reach out to Jolene either, even though he feels badly that she left believing he no longer loved her.
I saw Kristin Hannah a book signing at Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York City in February and she said that she wanted to write a book about the price of deployment on military families and a marriage in trouble. She said "some books I like more than others, and this one I like."
Kristin Hannah at Barnes & Noble
She interviewed a chopper pilot and "didn't understand one word she said because she used acronyms." The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Teresa Burgess, is thanked in the acknowledgments, and it is clear that she was the inspiration for Tami and Jolene.
There is a turn of events halfway through the novel, and it reminded me very much of Anna Quindlen's novel, Every Last One. Just like that powerful novel, I cried all the way through the last half, and my heart literally hurt reading it. It was a emotionally draining experience reading this book.
The characters are well drawn, and the story is well written. Betsy going through her teenage angst, Michael struggling and Jolene's withdrawal felt so real. I read this book in two sittings; I couldn't set it down or get these characters out of my mind.
Home Front takes you on a emotional journey, and it reminds us of the hugh sacrifice that a small percentage of Americans make on behalf of the rest of us. It is shameful that we as a nation have not done enough to help the families left behind or the soldiers upon their return, and thanks to Kristin Hannah for reminding us that we have a responsibility too.
rating 5 of 5 stars
Another excellent book about soldiers and the families they leave behind is Siobhan Fallon's You'll Know When the Men Have Gone.