At one point near the end of Kristin Hannah's new novel, HOME FRONT, Jolene --- who has just returned home, broken emotionally and physically, from the war in Iraq --- thinks to herself, "There was so much training before one goes to war, and so little for one's return." Among the many charged issues Hannah addresses in her book is that of reintegration into civilian life, a topic that gains even more resonance for her primarily female readership since the soldier in question is also a wife and a mother.
"Kristin Hannah disrupts many readers' assumptions about what a soldier looks like and about what the life of a military family is like. Throughout, she takes readers into some pretty unexpected --- and often dark --- territory..."
Jolene had a horrific childhood, raised (if that's the right word) by a distant, abusive father and a clingy mother who cared more about keeping a bad husband than about caring for her daughter. After her parents' early deaths, only joining the military helped Jolene find the strength and the focus her childhood lacked.
Falling in love with Michael, an idealistic and hard-working lawyer, also gave Jolene a chance to build the family she never had. Michael, however, always quietly disapproved of Jolene's career in the military. But once she scaled back to the National Guard and had children, he figured he could live with her part-time career as a helicopter pilot.
Michael lacks Jolene's strength. He hasn't known how to deal with the pain of his father's recent death, and in his inability to share his sorrow with his wife, he throws himself into his work…and falls out of love with Jolene. When Jolene's Guard unit is deployed to Iraq in 2005, at the height of the violence there, Michael and Jolene must come to terms with their faltering relationship.
Of course, both partners are also dealing with parenting their very different daughters: four-year-old Lulu, who can't comprehend her mother's absence, and 12-year-old Betsy, whose belligerence masks a vulnerability and real need for her mother. The ordinary challenges of keeping a household and parenting two children grow nearly insurmountable when one parent is thrust into a very unfamiliar role and the other into a critically important one half a world away.
In HOME FRONT, Kristin Hannah disrupts many readers' assumptions about what a soldier looks like and about what the life of a military family is like. Throughout, she takes readers into some pretty unexpected --- and often dark --- territory, as she explores issues of post-traumatic stress disorder and bodies ripped apart by IEDs, among other traumas of the body and the heart. In the end, though, HOME FRONT manages to find hope, both that relationships can survive unimaginable stress and that individuals can continue to evolve and grow even in times of change and sorrow.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 2, 2012