The books’ main character is Jolene Zarkades. She is an only child of parents with alcohol and marital issues who die in an alcohol-fueled car accident leaving Jolene to fend for herself at the age of 17. Jolene joins the Army, becomes a helicopter pilot, and meets Tami who will become her best friend for life. The novel begins in the twelfth year of Jolene’ marriage as Jolene is turning 41. Jolene has married Michael, a defense attorney, whom she met right after her parents death and then reconnected with after returning from the Army. They have 2 daughters, Betsy and Lulu. The marriage is in a rough spot with Michael spending all his time at work. Jolene is in the Army National Guards, something she is very proud of, takes her commitment seriously, and shares this passion with Tami who is also a helicopter pilot in the same unit and is living next door with her husband and son.
Michael does not support the war in Iraq and does not socialize with his wife’s friends or National Guard unit. He has distanced himself from the family, but is also trying to cope with the recent death of his father. He seems unable to talk to Jolene about this and seems to
be experiencing a mid-life- is this all there is crisis. Jolene is trying to restart their relationship when her Guard unit (of which she
is Chief) gets called to active duty in Afghanistan. The ensuing chapters deal with aspects of war : from getting ready to leave families, to the physical conditions of living and fighting in third world conditions, to injury and death. Not everyone in Jolene’s unit makes it home, and the ones that do are forever changed. On the “home front”, Michael has to become a single parent, the daughters have their own issues with Betsy displaying most every negative middle school girl characteristic imaginable, and the fortunate, nurturing presence of Michaels’ mother Mila and the entertaining physical therapist, Conny.
The members of our bookclub have read other Kristin Hannah novels, and this is similar in nature. While not “high literature”, we found this to be an easy read that allowed us to see aspects of war and the armed services that we might not have previously considered. Many bookclub members shared personal stories of their family involvement with the military in this and other wars. While we found some of the character development to be lacking or formulaic,(except for Lulu), and had issues with the way certain things came together (Michaels’ convenient legal case of a vet with PTSD, and the therapist who is called for expert advice), we had lively conversations about the brotherhood/sisterhood aspect that exists in the military, about the need for support and mental health counseling for families and the soldier given in a timely and generous manner, and the knowledge that at any time anyone in a military program can get “the call” for active
duty. So while the writing may have not been a favorite of some, the conversations generated by the work were enjoyed by all.