62 pages 2 hours read

Kristin Hannah

Home Front

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Kristin Hannah, a New York Times best-selling author, published Home Front in 2012. The narrative follows Jolene Zarkades’s struggle between being a Black Hawk pilot in the Army National Guard and the mother of two young daughters. Jolene also experiences conflict in her marriage to Michael, a Seattle attorney, who spends more time at work than with his family. When Jolene learns of her deployment to Iraq, she must find the strength to leave her family out of duty and loyalty to her crewmates and country. Through Jolene’s experiences in Iraq and returning home severely injured, Hannah teaches important lessons about love, loss, duty, and family.

This guide uses the paperback 2012 St. Martin’s Griffin edition.

Content Warning: This guide references depictions of war, violence, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Plot Summary

Part 1 opens on a night in 1982, when Jolene Larsen’s parents start drinking and fighting, as they usually do. They drive away when they finish their fight, leaving their daughter alone. Jolene stands in the rain and watches them leave. Eventually, a police officer arrives and tells her that her parents are dead.

Over 20 years later, Jolene Zarkades celebrates her 41st birthday. She is a Black Hawk pilot for the Army National Guard and has two daughters, Betsy and Lulu. Her husband, Michael, forgets about her birthday because of his grief over his father’s death, and because he is so busy at his law firm. Tami Flynn—Jolene’s best friend and fellow Black Hawk pilot—comes to Jolene’s house and offers comfort and company while Jolene waits for Michael’s return. He does not arrive until midnight.

Later that week, Jolene goes to Betsy’s middle school for career day. Betsy is mortified that her mother is a soldier. Jolene struggles to help Betsy navigate adolescence, but Betsy is often angry and does not communicate well. That afternoon, Michael meets with Keith Keller, an Iraq war veteran who has allegedly shot and killed his wife. Keith refuses to answer Michael’s questions, so the attorney and client sit silently. Michael is about to leave for Betsy’s track meet when Keith finally begins talking. Michael ends up missing the meet, leaving his daughter devastated.

When Michael returns home, Jolene confronts him about his behavior and what it is doing to his family. The couple argue, and Michael tells Jolene that he no longer loves her. The next morning, Jolene and Tami learn that the National Guard is deploying them to Iraq. Jolene explains the situation to Michael that night. He tells her to quit the Guard. Jolene cannot refuse her deployment and must balance her duty to her country with being a wife and mother.

As Jolene and Tami prepare for their departure, Michael becomes increasingly bitter about his wife leaving him with so much responsibility. At work, Michael enters a not-guilty plea on Keith’s behalf for first-degree murder. Jolene spends as much time with her daughters as she can and struggles to come to terms with leaving her family for a year. Two weeks later, at Jolene’s deployment ceremony, Michael sees the struggle other families are experiencing, softening his heart and making him realize the weight of Jolene’s departure. Jolene goes to Fort Hood for training before leaving for Iraq at the end of May.

After Jolene leaves, Michael struggles to keep his household running. This forces him to acknowledge how much Jolene did for her family. Michael realizes his client Keith has PTSD from serving two tours in Iraq. He finally convinces Keith to talk to a psychiatrist, Dr. Cornflower. Michael learns a lot about PTSD from Dr. Cornflower, realizing just how dangerous a warzone is. He fears for Jolene’s safety while gaining a new respect for her military service.

In Iraq, Jolene flies frequent helicopter missions that leave her traumatized and exhausted. She sees other helicopter crews die, and she and Tami begin to fear they might not make it home alive. Jolene uses phone calls, emails to her family, and a private journal to help her cope. However, she begins having nightmares about bodies and explosions, which become a constant part of her life in the war.

By summer’s end, Michael has developed a deep love for Betsy and Lulu that he previously lacked. He wants to write Jolene but does not know what to say, ashamed of his selfish behavior before she left. He finally does send her an email, but she has been shot down and seriously injured.

After Jolene’s helicopter crashes during a rescue mission she winds up in an American hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. A gunman named Smitty dies in the crash. Jamie’s injuries are minor, but Tami is in the intensive care unit (ICU) with a serious head injury that has put her in a coma. Jolene has injuries to her right hand and leg, which is eventually amputated from the knee down. Michael flies to Germany, but Jolene refuses to speak to him, saying he is right about their relationship being over. She demands he return home to prepare for her arrival, so he does.

In Part 2, Jolene returns to Seattle to stay at a rehabilitation center where she works with a man named Conny. She resists treatment at first, but when Michael brings Lulu and Betsy to the center to motivate her to get better, she realizes that she must work hard to be their mother again. Jolene gets her temporary prosthetic leg and begins practicing standing and walking, but her progress is slow and painful. Unfortunately, Jolene’s mental state continues to deteriorate. She has constant nightmares and often thinks of Tami, who is still in a coma in Germany. Michael tries to get close to her, but Jolene refuses to open her heart to him, afraid she will be hurt again.

When Jolene returns to her home, she struggles with simple tasks and lashes out at her family in anger. This upsets Lulu and Betsy, who cannot understand why their mom is so different. Michael’s work on Keith’s case enables him to see how PTSD is affecting Jolene, and he seeks Dr. Cornflower’s advice on how to help her. He tells Michael that Jolene needs to talk about her experience.

One morning, Jolene gives up her wine and sleeping pills, promising to return to her family. A few hours later, she learns Tami is dead. Her grief and loss climax when she attends Tami’s celebration of life. The sound of a slamming door causes Jolene to scream and fall to the ground. She returns home, embarrassed, but her frustration causes her to fall multiple times. Michael arrives and holds her until she calms down. When Jolene sees the love in his eyes, she stops denying that he has changed. They make love and heal their marriage. Jolene and Michael learn Betsy has gone missing, later finding her with Tami’s child holding pictures of their families at the Crab Pot, the families’ favorite restaurant. When they return home, Betsy and Jolene have an honest conversation, finally healing their tumultuous relationship.

The novel ends with Jolene on the road to a full recovery. She attends therapy with Dr. Cornflower to help her cope with her PTSD and grief. She also flies to Washington, DC, to help a marine who lost both of her legs. By helping others, Jolene regains her optimistic outlook on life. Six months later, Jolene finally has the strength to read the letter Tami left for her. In it, Tami encourages her friend to be happy and asks her to take care of her son Seth. This message provides Jolene with the peace and closure she needs, and she returns to her family a stronger, happier wife and mother.

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