Author: Kristin Hannah.
Publisher: St. Martins Press, 2012.
Kristen Hannah’s style of writing is not my favorite for various reasons. It somehow reminds me of the “Chicken Soup for the…” books. All the girls have either raven or auburn hair, smiles are always gentle, eyes sparkle, skirts swing gently around shapely legs, feet always slip into shoes…in other words, everybody is perfect. Nobody has dirty brown hair, smiles are not snaggle toothed, eyes aren’t dull, and nobody just plain puts on a pair of shoes. I can only stand such kind and gentle writing for a limited number of pages before I want to gag. However, in this case, I willingly managed to make my way through many pages of this because of the story behind the gentle smiles, slipped on shoes etc.
Home Front is the story of Jolene Zarkades, a young, very happily married woman with two daughters, Lulu, four and Betsy twelve. Jolene is a member of the National Guard and finds that she is about to be deployed to Iraq for a tour of duty. She is a Black Hawk rescue pilot, proud of her job and, though extremely reluctant to leave her family for a year, she is looking forward to doing what she was trained for. Although she is well aware of the fact that neither her husband, Michael, nor her children can possibly understand how she can go off and leave them she is determined to honor the pledge that she made when she joined the Guard. Her husband does not believe that America should be involved in the war and is not particularly proud of his wife’s part in it. In addition, he is a trial lawyer who has pretty much devoted his life to his work at the expense of time with his family and because of this, is not in tune with what makes them tick.
You might think that the subject matter of women in the military would not be of universal interest, but perhaps it should be. In 2011, there were 214,098 women in active duty with an additional 188,781 in the reserve and 72,790 in the National Guard. In Florida alone there are almost 141,000 women veterans. That’s a whole lot of women whose families have been directly affected by their lives in the military.
We all have an idea of how families are affected by men in the military. We have all heard of men who have returned home with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS). But what if it is a wife or mother who has gone off to war and come home with that very same syndrome? What if she is the one who has seen her best friends killed or wounded in action and felt somehow responsible for what has happened? What if she is the one who can’t stop the nightmares or drops to the ground when a car backfires? Home Front delves into that very subject. We see Jolene as a typical mother and wife who then leaves her family for her already work exhausted husband to care for. His whole adult life has been in the courtroom and he has little experience with caring for a home and family. And his last words to his wife, said in anger, are, “I don’t love you anymore.” How does he learn, as a single parent, to cope with the care of his two daughters while she is in Iraq? Luckily his mother is willing to help out despite her own responsibilities in a business of her own. Even more important, how do these two young girls and he learn to cope with their wife and mother when she comes home bearing little resemblance to the woman she was before she went off to war? Will she ever again be anything like the person they knew?
In an ironic twist, Michael is struggling, during much of this time, as the attorney for a young man, home from Iraq after two tours of duty, who has been accused of murdering his wife. At first he refuses to even talk to Michael, but once he begins to do so it becomes obvious that he is probably also a victim of PTSS. Michael’s defense of this ex-soldier teaches him much about the effects of PTSS, helping him to better understand what his wife is going through. And, in reverse, seeing what has happened to her helps him to understand how this guilt ridden young man might have killed his wife without any intent of doing so.
It is a fascinating story about what happens under these conditions. We are shown what her life was like while in Iraq, so we have a better understanding of why she became the person she is when she returns. And we see how the family dynamics ebb and flow through the challenge of adjusting to these changes. Despite the sparking eyes, gentle smiles etc., I enjoyed the book and it is well worth reading. Reading it gave me a new understanding of what has happened, and is still happening daily, to those men and women who have left it all behind to face their fears and confront the enemy so that we can sleep safely in our beds each night, without the nightmares that have become a regular part of their lives.
Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.