Reviewed by Sara Hodon
by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover: 400 pages, January 31, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0312577209
The war in Iraq may be officially over, but there are thousands of veterans and their families still living with the vivid memories of the horrors they witnessed; even more are adapting to new lives and trying to live as normally as possible with permanent injuries. The harsh reality of war and its aftermath are the premise of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, Home Front.
The book is a departure for Hannah, whose work has focused on the delicate balance that is human nature and our relationships with one another. Mother/daughter, husband/wife, best friends, and sisters are usually the centerpieces of Hannah’s works. Although the secondary storyline in Home Front highlights the unbreakable bond between female soldiers, the devastating impact of war is front and center throughout the book.
Jolene Zarkades is a wife, mother, and soldier—although, she would be the first to admit, not always in that order, much to the dismay of her husband, Michael, and daughters Betsy and Lulu. The Army gave Jolene a much-needed family when her own parents perished after fighting their own demons. As an adult, Jolene had to make the difficult decision to put the needs of her first family—and her country—on the back burner so she could raise her children. As a compromise, Jolene joins the National Guard and continues her work as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Then the unthinkable happens—her Guard unit, which also includes her best friend Tami Flynn, are summoned to the Middle East to join Operation Iraqi Freedom. This leaves her husband Michael, who was not supportive of Jolene’s military service and is struggling with the recent loss of his father and trying to find his own identity, home alone with daughters he barely knows, let alone can relate to. While in Iraq, a series of events changes everything for the Zarkades family.
Most of Hannah’s past novels fit neatly into a pattern, but there is nothing predictable about Home Front. She clearly did her homework, from her descriptions of the Army barracks where Jolene and Tami live in Iraq to the daily therapy routine Jolene undergoes once she returns home. In a parallel storyline, Michael, an attorney, is defending a young Army veteran who killed his wife—the effect, the psychologist in the novel confirms, of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to his military service.
Home Front is a nail-biter from beginning to end. The descriptions of Jolene’s daily life in the military, which are likely far more horrific for a real-life soldier than what Hannah describes in the book, are both compelling and heart-wrenching. Jolene Zarkades is a fictional Army helicopter pilot, but her story reflects the all-too-real experience of servicemen and women trying to return to their families after a life-changing tour of duty. After reading this book, you will want to thank all of the veterans you know.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com