Michael and Jolene are portrayed as a pretty typical American family. Michael is a criminal defence lawyer and Jolene is a helicopter pilot for the National Guard. Their 12 year marriage is struggling as the two have stopped connecting and have drifted apart.
Michael has buried himself in work, forgetting birthdays and school events, and Jolene balances caring for their 2 daughters (12 yr old hormonal Betsy and clingy 4 year old Lulu) and working part-time as a black hawk pilot for the American Army. The crux of the problems in their marriage is due to Michael’s inability to take any interest or even to care about her chosen career path and passion. Jolene’s one comfort is her best friend and co-pilot, Tami.
One night Michael utters the words ‘I don’t love you anymore,’ and says he wants a separation perhaps even a divorce. The next day she finds out that she and Tami are being deployed to Iraq. Michael and Jolene must attempt to pull together for the sake of their daughters.
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While Jolene is away she is in constant danger in Iraq and works hard to keep her crew and herself safe. She struggles to cope without the love and support of her husband while still having to trust that he will look after her children. Michael must juggle being a hands-on dad with his work and learn to comfort and care for the girls he hardly knows anymore. He feels out of his depth and resents Jolene for leaving him to hold the fort on his own.
When disaster strikes the family’s relationships are really put to the test as they attempt to salvage what they have left.
On starting the book, the ‘chick-litty’ writing style and at times overly emotional American characters did put me off a little but very quickly the story draws you in and I forgot all about those. Kristin Hannah is an engaging writer, similar in style to Jodie Picoult, and you do find yourself connecting (if not necessarily agreeing) with her characters.
The book is at times quite distressing and I found myself in tears on more than one occasion! Hannah does not gloss over gritty details when describing combat situations and raw emotions. I would say that I enjoyed this book as a war novel it was a real page-turner and I was hooked by the story until the very end. However, the writing style hasn’t inspired me to read anymore Kristin Hannah.
Primarily this book is focussed on the ideas of a gender role reversal within a family as the mother is the soldier going off to war, which gives it a new angle on many other books of this genre, and of the long-term effects of war on soldiers and the lack of help available to them.
Kristin Hannah tackles many themes in this book including; marriage, work/family balance, friendship and grief. She also discusses issues such as deployment, sacrifices of military personnel and their families, and the difficulties of homecomings.
My main downside was that the book does not provide a very positive overview of life for military personnel, and especially for their families. I felt it was quite anti-military at times and is definitely not one to read just before a loved one is deployed, but in fairness to Hannah she doesn’t force these points of view down your throat. However, it does highlight issues such as the sacrifice that military families make, both those going away and those left behind.
If you enjoyed this book for the same reasons as I did then I would recommend reading ‘My dear, I wanted to tell you,’ by Louisa Young
I would rate this book 4/5
Home Front by Kristin Hannah published by Pan
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