Soldier On by J.D. Wynne shows the behind the scenes action and emotional toll of war on those in uniform.
The September 11, 2001 attacks impacted the lives of so many in the United States, including Molly McKinney. Molly wanted to be a doctor and had joined the Army Reserves to help pay for college. After the terrorist attacks, she was deployed to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan as a Military Police (MP) specialist, forcing Molly to put her dream of becoming a doctor on hold.
War, even when not serving on the front lines, is a harrowing experience. Thousands of Americans in the Army Reserves had to pause their lives and leave their families, loved ones, and careers. Their stories need to be heard. What makes Soldier On so intriguing is that it is told through a female perspective, which is a refreshing change from typical wartime fiction.
Soldier On peeks into the lives of the military police tasked with guarding prisoners, but the focus of this novel doesn’t revolve around the prison. Instead it shines the light on the individuals within Molly’s circle of fellow soldiers. At the heart of the novel is a budding relationship.
At times it’s easy to forget Molly’s age since she’s been placed in the ultimate grownup situation. But she’s young and not experienced in relationships. Her naivety plays well in the story, allowing her to stumble through the awkwardness of figuring out whether or not she’s attracted to a man in her unit. Staying true to the romance genre, Molly experiences setbacks and makes bad decisions in her pursuit of love.
Living on an army base adds more layers of difficulty. The author has chosen to keep a safe distance from Molly’s role as guard over suspected terrorists, which is a complicated can of worms. Setting the romance at the heart of the novel allows people – whatever their stance on the war – to read the pages without feeling overly conflicted by their personal beliefs. However, that doesn’t mean the war doesn’t affect the character or the plot: Every aspect of Molly’s life is impacted by her situation. Even moments of happiness are fraught with tension and the thought that something terrible could happen at any moment is never far from the reader’s mind.
The ending of Soldier On is a surprise. While there are clues, what actually happens will make many cringe. For some reason, Wynne decided to skip over certain aspects after a pivotal scene near the end and forces the story to a conclusion quickly and without much resolution. There is an epilogue that provides answers to some questions, but it’s somewhat puzzling as to why the author built up so much to the climax and then shut the story down so abruptly.
For the most part, Soldier On is an intriguing glimpse into the lives of soldiers. Molly is an easy character to like and cheer for. Hopefully the author intends to revisit Molly’s story in a subsequent book to fill in the gaps.