Kristin Hannah never shies away from complex emotional situations in her novels, but her most recent book, Home Front, ventures into new and important territory as she explores a marriage tested by the demands of a nation at war.
Jolene Zarkades is an Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot whose marriage to the workaholic attorney Michael Zarkades, is already troubled when the novel begins. Michael has withdrawn further into his work following his father’s recent death, and is feeling the first stirrings of that familiar mid-life crisis. The couple have two needy daughters, ages four and twelve, and the full load of parenting has always fallen to Jolene, despite the demands of her career.
When Jolene is unexpectedly deployed to Iraq the precarious balance of their family life is upended. As Jolene puts herself in harms way on a daily basis, flying dangerous missions in the cruel desert heat, Michael must step up to the task of full time parenting for two little girls who desperately miss their mother. In addition, he is handling a complicated legal case for a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and his research leads him to some worrying conclusions about his wife and what she’s going through. As the tensions mount for both of them on opposite sides of the world, there is one cataclysimic event that finally forces them to confront the failings in their relationship head on, and deal with them once and for all.
Home Front is not a conventional love story. It’s as tough and gritty as war itself. These are real people who make mistakes in their relationship -they keep secrets, they don’t communicate the important things, they occasionally say and do hurtful things. There have been many novels over the years that look at wartime relationships from the perspective of the man at war, but Hannah has taken on the important task of showing us what it’s like for the 21st century female solider in combat. Jolene is a strong minded woman, with a fierce devotion to family and to duty. Hannah doesn’t flinch from exploring the hard truths about women at war and the effects on their families. But through these admirable characters, she also shows us that it’s possible to overcome even the most difficult of situations with love and strong committment.
Home Front, like all of Hannah’s other novels, is immensely readable. It’s the kind of book that keeps you up late because you have to know what happens next. But Home Front also gave me amazing insights into the lives of service women in combat, as well as a profound and renewed appreciation for our service personnel and their families, who make huge sacrifices so their loved ones to fulfill the duty their country requires. It’s an important book, and one Hannah can be proud to offer her readers.