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Home Front A Triumph of Hope

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • 2012 13 Feb
<i>Home Front</i> A Triumph of Hope

Author: Kristin Hannah

Title: Home Front

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

On Jolene's forty-first birthday, she is in many ways a typical suburban mom. She has a twelve-year-old daughter, Betsy, complete with all the usual pre-teen issues and a four-year-old, Lulu, who likes to pretend she's invisible. Jolene's husband, Michael, is a trial lawyer who has grown steadily more distant since his dad died last year. All pretty average, really.

But Jolene's job is anything but average: most days she goes from driving a carpool to flying a Black Hawk helicopter. She and her best friend, Tami, are both pilots and members of the National Guard. As the daughter of alcoholic parents, the Guard has become the family Jolene didn't have growing up—and in some ways they're more of a family than the people she shares a house with.

Every family goes through rough patches now and then and both of Jolene's families are about to be hit hard. It's bad enough that her husband and older daughter are embarrassed by Jolene's military career, but then Michael informs her he doesn't love her anymore. Jolene is still reeling from that bombshell when Uncle Sam drops another one. Her unit is being deployed to Iraq.

Once given the news Betsy is humiliated and scared, little Lulu is confused, and Michael is more inconvenienced than anything else. With Jolene out of the picture he'll have to take an active part in his daughters' lives. Naturally, this happens just when he's landed a high profile legal case defending a young soldier accused of murder. Michael doesn't dream that his research for that case will soon be applicable to his own life.

Jolene, Tami, and their unit head off to training and then to Iraq. They do their best to stay in touch through phone calls and emails, but connections are uncertain and communication is tricky. Still, they manage—until disaster strikes and lives hang in the balance.

Hannah has given us a deeply affecting look at the lives of those who serve in the military and the people who love them. No matter what you think about the Iraq war (or war in general) I defy anyone to read the last third of this book without at least blinking back a few tears. (More sensitive readers would be well advised to keep a box of tissues close at hand.) Home Front puts a face—several faces, actually—on the statistics many of us only know from the news.

While this may sound like a grim read, it's really not. Home Front is ultimately a story of hope. In its pages you'll find humor and heroism, love and loss. The characters are flawed but they're not villains. They're us; everyday people called on to face extraordinary challenges. It's a testament to Hannah's skill that even the most profound changes that result seem to grow organically out of the characters' experiences. Jolene, her family, and their friends are about as real as people in a book can be.

Even when it breaks your heart, Home Front is one of the best books you'll read all year. Buy this one. You'll be glad you did.

*This review first published 2/13/2012