Kristin Hannah’s Home Front is the story of Jolene Zarkades, a helicopter pilot who is haunted by the memories of her alcoholic parents who were killed in a car accident in 1982. The story takes place in 2005. Jolene has built what she believes is a solid foundation for herself and her family. Then her defense attorney husband, Michael, stings her by sneaking off to work without wishing her a happy birthday. He makes her feel worse when he stays late, and then brings home gifts that she didn’t want. We know that the marriage is in trouble before he tells her that he doesn’t love her anymore.
She commiserates with her best friend, Tami Flynn, who is also a helicopter pilot in the Army. Tami tries to console her, but she is crushed by Michael’s cruel statement. Sometime in the middle of this conversation, Tami’s phone rings. She answers it, hangs up, and announces that both she and Jolene have been given deployment orders to Iraq.
Michael and their oldest daughter, Betsy, are not happy with this news. He is anti-war and has never understood, much less supported, Jolene’s decision to make a career out of the Army. He is cold and distant with her, while Betsy throws endless temper tantrums that make her four year-old sister (Lulu) look mature.
Jolene tries to gloss over the situation by telling her family that she will be flying VIPs while stationed in Iraq. She and Tami leave together, train for combat together, and ultimately fly together. While they are gone, Michael learns the truth about his wife’s deployment after he takes on a case where a former Marine is charged with murdering his wife. Before he took on this case, he was very resentful of Jolene for leaving him and their daughters. Now, he is concerned about what she is really doing in Iraq and what effects this will have on her. He begins to investigate the psychological effects of war not only for his client, but for his wife.
His anger disappears, replaced by an appreciation for everything she has done for him and the girls. Guilt keeps him from writing an apology email to her. Jolene struggles with her feelings about her marriage as she goes through the day-to-day rigors of combat missions. She is still thinking about that awful conversation between her and her husband as she and Tami leave on their last mission.
Their helicopter is shot down, leaving one soldier dead and Tami in a coma. Jolene is badly injured. Both women are flown to a military hospital in Germany, where Jolene has one of legs amputated. Not only is she in a lot of pain, but she is also suffering from severe flashbacks of the crash and guilt over her fallen comrades, especially her best friend.
The Army sends her back to the States, where she is put into a rehabilitation center. All through the story, we get glimpses of what it is like for soldiers to fight in wars. But this part of the story is where Hannah really drives it home as to extent of the trauma and how limited the resources are for veterans who are dealing with PTSD and physical handicaps are.
The most heartbreaking part of the story was when Jolene comes home, a completely different person than she was when she left. Hannah does an excellent job of portraying what that is like, along with the stress of learning how to live as an amputee and with an amputee.
I enjoyed reading Home Front. Kristin Hannah has a way of fleshing out her characters so that the reader will react, either positively or negatively. This is the second book I have read by her (Firefly Lane was the first.), and I plan on reading the others. Highly recommended.