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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

YA Military School Novel A Fast-Paced, Girl-Power Thrill Ride

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sam McKenna's never been able to back down from a dare.  Especially when it comes from her older brother, Amos.  In the wake of his suicide, 17-year-old McKenna is more determined than ever to fulfill the last challenge Amos ever flung at her.  Even if it's a crazy one.  And trying to get into the prestigious, boys-only Denmark Military Academy is insane—especially when you're a girl.  Still, Sam manages to break the barrier and become one of the school's first female cadets.  That's when the real nightmare begins.  

No one wants Sam to survive her first year at DMA.  Not even her brother, Jonathon, who's a cadet colonel at the school.  That becomes clear almost as soon as she steps onto campus.  Not only is she forced to work harder than her male counterparts, but she's mocked and abused at every turn.  Although she finds allies in surprising places, she soon begins to suspect that an archaic secret society is still at work on DMA's campus—and it wants her gone.

As Sam works to expose the school's dark side, she struggles to fit in, to outlast her tormentors, and to help the two other female cadets stay strong in the face of brutal intimidation tactics.  Then, there's her strong, but embarrassing attraction to her drill sergeant.  The longer Sam stays at DMA, the more dangerous her situation becomes.  Can Sam survive her brother's dare?  Does she even want to?  Is it really worth it, when the society is so obviously out for her blood?  Sam has never known when to quit.  This time, her stubbornness could cost her her life ...

While the premise behind Rites of Passage, a debut novel by Joy N. Hensley, isn't very original, it still makes for an intense, action-packed read.  With Hensley's insider's view of military academy life, the details of Sam's experience ring with authenticity.  Sam, herself, is empathetic and admirable—an easy character with which to side.  I definitely cared about what was happening to her.  The thing that bugged me about her story, though, is that it's all about a tough, kick-A heroine who can take care of herself—and yet, Sam repeatedly gets rescued by all the guys around her.  Solving all of these problems on her own, with only minimal help, would have made her a more inspiring character.  All in all, though, I enjoyed Rites of Passage.  It's fast-paced and compelling, a solid debut that makes me curious to see what the author will do next. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Rites of Passage from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!
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