A book that immediately engages your mind and emotions.
As this book begins we read a letter from someone who is in hospital recovering from being shot in the chest.
It is WW2 in an alternate Earth where there are women soldiers fighting on the front line. The letter’s author tells us about the experiences of 3 of the women who each have different roles. There is a white girl from small ‘c’ conservative USA heartlands, who is in the infantry; there is a New York Jewish girl who works for Army intelligence; and there is a coloured girl from Oklahoma working as a medic. They had met before 1943 – which is where this story is set, but this fact only comes to light late in the book, unless you have read the first book in this series. The series has a short novella that follows and a further book not yet published which tells of the war from where this book finishes.
The war, as it is told in this story, is very similar to the one we know from our Earth, with just a few changes, but not enough to notice unless you happen to be an expert.
In this world’s army – if the men did it, then the women did also. From digging trenches and latrines, to shooting to kill, even sharing their accommodation with the men in their unit. Your gender is relevant here – only your army role counts – unless you are coloured in which case you will be I a special unit and have your own tents and so on. Just as we did in our version of WW2.
So we hear about each girl and how their war unfolds.
The white girl goes through the infantry hell of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. The Jewish girl becomes a spy ina complicated sub-plot which involves the Mafia and the Gestapo. And the coloured girl demonstrates her heroism in the trenches and how she treats those under her charge.
The book is frank about sexism, racism and the brutalities of war and how it hardens the mentions of those who go through it. It tells how human comfort is offered and accepted at unlikely times and how friendships are formed under conditions of duress. Torture is not missed but not in every bloody d3tail but much is told often in remembrances which make it a little less stark which must help the audience at which this series is targeted – the older YA including 6th forms. There is plenty of swearing but whilst there is no bowdlerisation the sear words are change to make them acceptable to libraries etc.
As a reflection for the YA audience on how fighting a war is less than heroism but more about dirt; disease; the randomness of death and injury and sheer bloodiness; trench foot; cold; wet; and awful food, it gets its message across.