Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Publishing Information: HarperTeen (Sept. 9, 2014)
Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.
So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty…no matter how much she wants him.
As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out. At any cost.
Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust…and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences
So here’s the thing, I pretty much never read a non-fantasy military story. I love watching movies about the military and about war (I just realized how depressing that sounds) but I can’t even recall what the last military book I read was. For that reason, I almost passed up on reading Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley but I’m so glad I decided to venture outside of my usual story line comfort-zone because I ended up really enjoying this book.
Rites of Passage follows the story of Sam McKenna, who is part of the first class of girls to attend the Denmark Military Academy (DMA). Sam is a very strong-willed person and she never backs down from a dare. Attending the DMA was dare that her brother, Amos, challenged her to before his death and so, she initially attends as a way to prove that she can rise up to his challenge. Since the DMA has historically been an all-male academy, there are plenty of people who detest the idea of female recruits. Those who do not want the girls at the academy, namely a secret society that goes by the name The Society (original, right?), go to great lengths to make life a living hell for the girls. The Society perceives girls as being weak and its members believe that girls are not capable of making it through DMA.
Sam is a terrific main character and is easily one of my favorite female heroines from my reads this year; she is determined, tough, and is able to push through the most difficult of situations. Since Sam comes from a military family, she is also very disciplined and thus manages to follow the academy’s rules despite facing blatant acts of sexism and misogyny. Once she realizes how deep the sexism runs within the DMA, she decides that she needs to succeed not only to win Amos’ dare but also to pave the way for other females who will attend the academy after her. While reading this book, I wanted to reach through the pages and comfort Sam during the intense hazing rituals she had to go through. As a person whose main form of exercise is Zumba, I shuddered while reading about the intense workout sessions she was forced to go through. Clearly, I would never be able to make it through all of the pain and abuse that Sam had to deal with.
Joy N. Hensley did a fantastic job of creating a well-paced and gripping novel. It turns out that Joy went to military school herself, which definitely shows; she does a brilliant job of explaining the details of military school and giving a very realistic image of the process recruits have to go through. Joy also manages to weave in a bit of romance but it’s not the main focus of the story and the guy Sam falls for, Drill Sergeant Stamm, is totally swoon-worthy.
The ending of this book leaves some questions unanswered but I’m hoping that’s because there will be a sequel. I’d love to witness more of Sam’s fierceness and see her further tackle the military’s patriarchal structure. Rites of Passage was a wonderful read; if you’re looking for a great contemporary novel that well take you on a very intense and emotional journey, I think you’ll really enjoy this one!