Kristin Hannah’s Home Front serves as fantasy fulfillment for both mothers frustrated with their workaholic husbands and red state flag-wavers who hated the “Liberal” stance on the Iraq War circa 2005, all wrapped in an easy-to-read bundle.
The quick and dirty synopsis is that Jolene is a Black Hawk pilot for the Army Reserves (or National Guard?) along with her best friend Tami Flynn, a sassy Native American woman with a stereotypically Native son (he plays guitar, he’s soulful, he has long hair and wears rock T-shirts and tight jeans). Jolene joined the army because of her turbulent childhood filled with alcohol abuse, violence and finally the death of her parents. Tami joined the army because… of reasons, we assume. Jolene and Tami became fast friends in a wonderful place filled with tradition and rules and friendship and loyalty and bravery and honor and Jolene + Tami 4 Eva, and so on.
Though Jolene has the perfect life — two beautiful daughters, a beautiful house, a beautiful husband, a beautiful town and a beautiful mother-in-law (who is eccentric and Greek!) — suddenly she realizes that beneath this sheen of perfection, her marriage has begun to crumble, due in part to her husband’s absenteeism in family activities and (according to her husband) her unwillingness to let him be the man. But Jolene can’t let him be the man, because she’s a Black Hawk pilot. But in being a Black Hawk pilot, has she forgotten how to be a wife?
This question is cut short when Tami and Jolene (4 eva) are sent to war. Jolene’s family thinks she’s selfish (because her blue-state, white-collar husband has never understood the beautiful tradition and honor that is the military life because he’s too busy reading his New York Times and listening to his NPR because he hates America), while Tami’s family are proud and respectful. Jolene lies to her family, telling them that women aren’t allowed in combat in Iraq anyway, so she’ll be fine, and they believe her because of course they do.
The second half of the novel is the aftermath of Jolene’s inevitable battle injury. Her Black Hawk is shot down and she and her crew have to make a crash-landing which instantly kills one crew member, slightly injures another, maims our hero and knocks Tami (aka. Lady Goose) unconscious (4 eva?).
Meanwhile, Jolene’s husband has had to navigate the world of being a single father alone at home without his wife, realizing for the first time just how tough it’s been on her, and what a trooper she is — both in the battlefield of war and the battlefield… of life. Also their marriage is like a war. Or something. And pre-teen girls are so gosh-darned hard to understand with their boy bands and make-up and short skirts and temper tantrums.
In one heck of a coincidence, Michael is defending a soldier with PTSD who appears to have shot his wife through the head. In investigating this case (the important case that a young, idealistic lawyer has been looking for?!), he further understands his wife, the military, America and himself.
Will this family come together, or will they be torn apart by the ravages of war? Will the lead character’s best minority friend be used as a pawn to help her come to terms with her injury and battle her demons? Will Kristin Hannah describe every scrap of clothing that anyone ever wears within an inch of its life?
Please don’t read this book. The answer is yes.
If it seems like I’m being glib, obviously I am, but you would not believe how literally all of the above is spelled out in this book. It’s written with the hammiest of fists and the heaviest of hands. To avoid this becoming a marathon post, I will include a separate post just highlighting the “best of” ham-fisted lines of dialogue or narrative.
What’s surprising about Home Front is not that it’s selling well, because it’s exactly the kind of book people pick up for book clubs or beach/bus/train/airport reading, but rather that people are trying to argue for its “importance.”
Here are some snippets from Amazon reviewers:
Tonya Speelman “Hoarder of books”
[W]hat are we doing to support our troops when they come home? That is a good question for all of us to ponder!
Thanks Kristin, for another outstanding read! Any book that makes you think like this, is an excellent book in my opinion!
I received this book for free from Amazon in exchange for my honest opinion.
I wonder if that last line was required for legal reasons.
The best books inspire personal change. I already had a certain level of insight and compassion for military families. HOME FRONT gave me more. The author’s extensive research allowed her to write this book with accuracy in place, event, and technical detail. More important than that, however, is the accuracy with which she brings her characters–and their challenges–to life.
I hope many Americans will read this book. It’s a very realistic look at combat, at what military families endure, and most importantly, what PTSD does to a person.
It’s important to highlight the struggles American soldiers have with PTSD, how little help they receive from the government and how much they need when returning home from battle. But I doubt very much that someone is going to be able to slap a copy of Home Front down on the President’s desk to really get things rolling. Writing a book about PTSD and amputees and soldiers and the Iraq war might be brave or important, but that’s not the case here. Kristin Hannah makes the message much too preachy and much too sappy to really change any hearts and/or minds.
Interestingly, it’s tough to find a review by someone who was paid in something other than free books by an employer, rather than a publisher or distributor. For the most part, reviews for Home Front are either supplied by Amazon customers or bloggers with lurid pink and purple backgrounds, accented by baskets filled with watercolor flowers and/or cats.
Luckily, I am none of the above and can confidently give this book a hearty D.