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Book Review: 'Home Front' by Kristin Hannah

Civilians know that the war in Iraq was a different kind of war, with large numbers of weekend warrior National Guardsmen and women called up, with front lines everywhere so women were indeed in combat positions, and described by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a "long, hard slog."

During that time, while we saw on television the happy reunions of returning soldiers and their families, we didn't see the stiff welcome--homes of troubled marriages. Sometimes we read about the long, hard slogs of recovery from a traumatic injury. In best--selling novelist Kristin Hannah's latest book, "Home Front," she brings together all those unseen elements.

Jolene is a proud National Guard helicopter pilot and mother of two in what she thought was a good marriage until her husband tells her he wants out. Soon after, she's called up to serve in Iraq with her next--door neighbor and best friend, another Guardswoman, but this one in a supportive military family. Jolene's lawyer husband doesn't even consider them a military family, and sure doesn't support his wife's work. They and their children are not prepared for her departure or return, and what will happen on the home front.

Jolene does her duty, and her husband, Michael, confronts the reality of his home front -- being an involved father to his 4--year--old and preteen daughters, who depend on him not just to be home before dinner, but also to offer emotional support he's not sure how to provide.

Without giving away too much of the story, the family must adjust to change and Jolene must face tragedy at war as well as her own way of dealing with life's hardship -- trying to push pain away for forced happiness.

Hannah researched her topic well, explained in an afterword as she is not from a military family. Military families reading this might see themselves or the struggles of their friends. Civilians will take away a deeper understanding of the expanse of war and its impact far beyond the battlefield.

Hannah excels at moving the story along at a page--turning clip, even when describing the slow movements of medical recovery. Her novels' book covers are soothing covers with images that draw you in, but the storytelling is what keeps you in.

The title "Home Front" refers to those at home while loved ones are away at war, but it also refers to the front that Jolene put up early in her life to feign happiness. War peels that away.

Hannah is adept at bringing readers into the world of Iraq veterans, especially women soldiers, and how the Army intertwines with their identities. It's a novel, but gives you a deeper understanding of what our nation's military heroes -- and their families -- sacrifice.

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