Thursday, May 29, 2014

Home Front by Kristin Hannah

It's been several years since I've read a book by Kristin Hannah but I've always liked her writing so I was pleased when our book club selected a title by her.  HOME FRONT did not disappoint and it certainly was a sound choice for this Memorial Day time frame.  It's 2005 and Jolene, a National Guard helicopter pilot is deployed to Iraq, leaving behind her two daughters and her husband, a lawyer who has allowed his career to separate him from the family.  Jolene's youngest daughter is only four and Jolene fears the effects of the long absence.  While Jolene would like support and help from her older daughter, what she seems to get from preteen Betsy instead is a lot of drama and criticism.  Only her next door neighbor, best friend and co-pilot (all one person) seems to understand just how good Jolene is at her job and how much the military has shaped the person Jolene actually is.  Despite her family's protests and Jolene's fear that her absence may signal the end of her marriage, she answers the call to duty, but once in Iraq, Jolene carefully selects what she shares with those back home.  Despite not being assigned to combat, her missions are dangerous and she sees death all around her.  None of this does she reveal to her family.

Like other war-themed books, HOME FRONT tells the price of war, this time not on a country, but on the individual and the family.  Perhaps for one of the first time, that story is about a woman, a mature woman with family that must carry on without her.  HOME FRONT is also the story of PTSD and its devastating effects.  While only a fiction story, this book left me thinking about the real soldiers who have difficulties leaving war behind and finding their way back to "normal."  Our country should not fail them.

Our book club met tonight and I went expecting to dissect Hannah's writing and listen to others'comments on Jolene and Michael's troubled marriage.  Instead our facilitator had a wonderful surprise; she had located a female veteran of the Iraqi war who shared an overview of her time there (2004).  When she served, she, like the character Jolene, left behind two children (quite small).  During her talk, it was easy to see that Hannah had done her research before writing the book.  Not only were the scenes in Iraq realistically described, but even the interactions between Jolene and her flight crew matched the way our guest speaker spoke about the relationship between officers and enlisted soldiers.   I recommend HOME FRONT if you'd like to give Kristin Hannah a try.  I also recommend that we all take time to listen to our veterans, young and old. We don't have to be super-patriots to realize that their deployments meant sacrifices that changed their lives forever.

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