Three young women supply a gritty grunt’s-eye view of World War II in the opener to an ultrahistory series.
After a court decision declares women eligible for combat, aimless California farmer’s daughter Rio Richlin volunteers for the Army, partly to avenge her sister’s death but mostly to keep her best friend company. Diminutive, compassionate, and determined, African-American Frangie Marr enlists for the paycheck, but she also hopes for medical training. And Jewish Rainy Schulterman just wants to pour all her ferocious intelligence and steely will into killing Nazis. Switching among these three viewpoints, the narrative slowly constructs intimate portraits of each, as the “soldier girls” are tested in body and spirit, overcoming laziness, fear, and cockiness. They suffer through boredom, rough conditions, and incompetent commanders as well as routine sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism (authentically, highly offensive language is employed throughout). A framing device ponderous with foreshadowing—along with such standard teen tropes as love triangles and family secrets—keeps the plot moving, but it’s the immersive, quotidian details that set up the gripping climax amid the chaos of combat. Bestselling science-fiction author Grant did his research (an extensive bibliography is provided), but the odd and likely unintended consequence of his premise is the erasure of thousands of military women who historically served and fought and died.
Still, an engrossing portrayal of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. (Alternate history. 14 & up)