Before she became Jolene Zarkades, she was Jolene Larsen, a child of alcoholic parents and all-too familiar with domestic violence. At seventeen, she described families like hers as “battlefields, bloody and dark, littered with shrapnel and body parts.”
When her parents died in a car accident that year, she grabbed onto a life that would give her a sense of family, strength, and purpose. She became a helicopter pilot in the Air National Guard.
For years, that life was only a part-time one, with occasional flights and drill weekends.
Her husband Michael, a successful attorney in Seattle, had been the love of her life. But lately their lives seemed to be moving on alternate pathways.
Between daily routines and the children—preteen Betsy and four-year-old Lulu—there wasn’t much time or energy for the relationship. Their marriage seemed to be splintering, a piece at a time.
Everything changes when Jolene is deployed to Iraq. She and best-friend Tami Flynn, who lives next door, are off together to put their training to use.
Left behind, Michael struggles; he is angry at Jolene’s choice to be in the military, yet feeling guilty about his feelings. He’d never really believed she would go to war. As a workaholic, he has submerged himself in work; now he is forced to manage on his own, and can’t believe how difficult this single parenting has turned out to be.
In an alternating narrative voice, we come to see how Michael and Jolene separately suffer and cope with how their lives have turned out. But just as Michael is finally getting the hang of parenting, a phone call turns his world upside down.
What happens next to change everything for the two of them? How will Jolene’s fate affect Betsy and Lulu, and how will she finally come to terms with who she is now?
Home Front is a story about love, loss, heroism, honor, and hope. It’s about coping, rediscovering who you are, and rebuilding the fragile bonds that have broken.
The characters felt like real people, with vulnerabilities exacerbated by the horrific experiences they have faced. I felt compassion for Jolene and Tami, trained in the military life, relying on stoicism to see them through, while burying their feelings of fear and vulnerability. My heart went out especially to Jolene, who went from an embattled childhood to a war zone. These experiences rendered her especially susceptible to PTSD. Recovery would require something she has no experience with: the ability to ask for help and to allow those around her to give it. I also finally came to feel some empathy for Michael, who, in his own way, is also unable to reach out for help.
A beautifully wrought tale that brought me to tears throughout, I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to delve into the emotional issues of families struggling with war, at home and in the field. Five stars.