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Book BFFS: Silent by David Mellon and Frontlines by Michael Grant

‘Sup readers? After a short hiatus, Book BFFs, Fan Fest’s book matchmaking column, has returned. Essentially, the aim is to recommend you books based on things you might have read previously, with varying degrees of success.

One of my recent On The Shelf picks was David Mellon’s debut, Silent. A standalone YA historical fiction novel with a touch of magical realism. Silent follows 15-year-old Adi, a teenager who bore the weight of the world on her shoulders— and that was way before a magical madman, Coal, burnt down her house and kidnapped her two younger twin brothers, upset that she foiled his first attempt to ignite WWI (he gets it done anyway. But I mean, she screwed up his plans, man. Payback is a must). But it’s not like Coal’s an unreasonable madman— he turns the kidnapping of Adi’s brothers into a cruel game, bestowing upon her a pocket watch marked with her own blood, impossible riddles to solve, and the dire instruction to keep silent until time runs out. If she breaks the rule, Coal, creepily, will just know and send her a piece of one of the twins— a finger, a toe, a tongue. She cannot speak or even write, thus making the quest to find her brothers a solitary one. Eventually, Adi finds herself swept up into WWI as a medic, desperate to save the twins. Mellon weaves an eclectic cast of characters around Adi, and despite the loss of her voice, she is able to communicate her needs and wants clearly, stubbornly  refusing to utter a peep, even when death circles.

Honestly, WWI serves as background music to Silent, reading more like a diversion to Adi finding her brothers than The Great War, which is probably why the BFF pick for this one will be a little surprising.

What you should read next:

If you liked Silent (especially the historical aspect), you’ll probably find yourself enamoured with Michael Grant’s Frontlines series, an “alternatively imagined” WWII, in which women are allowed to enlist and fight alongside the men. If you recognize the name Michael Grant, it’s because he wrote the dystopian Gone series (the seventh book is coming out later this year!), the BZRK series, and a whole bunch of other stuff. He even co-wrote the middle-grade Animorphs series with his wife, K.A. Applegate (check out his Reddit AMA. Totally worth the read).

How they’re similar:

Actually, to be honest with you, the only things these books really have in common are their genre and their switching POVs (Silent is mostly Adi, sometimes Coal, and then occasionally, the novel will veer you into someone else’s “tale”— ie: Hallick’s Tale. The first book in Grant’s Frontlines series is told from four different POVs, though the fourth character isn’t named, a writer telling the story of WWII after it’s over and done with).

How they’re different:

As a character, Adi never wavers in her purpose. She is single-minded about rescuing the twins, to the point where a freaking war comes off as an inconvenience, a task, not a freaking war. Meanwhile, in the world of Frontlines, World War II is a fully immersive, inescapable reality, and the three women we follow— Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman— are consumed by it to varying degrees for various reasons. Rio is the one who takes up the majority of the first book, enlisting as a soldier after the death of her older sister Rachel. Frangie must enlist in order to provide financial support for her family, and Rainy, a Jewish girl who has been accepted into an elite intelligence unit, dreams of killing Adolf Hitler with her bare hands. Silent is historically accurate, but leans heavily on its fantastical elements to draw readers in, while there are times that Frontlines turns into an info dump, reading more like a textbook about military procedure and equipment than a fictionalized account of the war.  Both authors really know their stuff, but Grant is so meticulous and detailed in his retelling, it’s far more grounded than Silent.

Why you should read Frontlines:

Historical fiction isn’t usually my jam— I have nothing against it, I just don’t find myself picking up a lot of it, which is odd, given my interest in history— and one of the things I was bowled over by is how very much Michael Grant poured into this story. As mentioned, Grant goes all out when it comes to describing life as a soldier, as a medic, and as an intelligence agent. His attention to detail is exhaustive, but absolutely enhances the story; the narrative is not limited to Rio, Frangie, or Rainy’s experience of the war. In fact, it becomes a spiderweb of shared experiences. Grant deals with the consequences of sexism and racism in the military, and each of his characters have a unique tone. I’m going to be honest: at first, Rio is my least favourite (tough, resourceful Frangie and wry, perceptive Rainy are far more interesting) of the narrators: her motivation for enlisting in the war is unclear, the result of a muddle of factors that combine to form what reads as the literary equivalent of “Well, it’s not like I’m doing anything else with my life, so I should sign up!” But Grant has a history of transforming something mundane into something utterly showstopping, and Rio is no exception. She goes from painfully-average, indecisive teenager to formidable sharpshooter, and she does it all on her terms. If there’s one thing Grant can do, it’s transport you to his setting, and make you breathe life into his characters, so they’ll stick with you for months after you put the book down. Frontlines is the first in a series, the second book, Silver Stars, was released on January 31st, 2017.

If Frontlines sounds like your kind of read, you can snag a copy here.

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