Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading ... Rites of Passage by Joy Hensley

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Just Finished Reading ... Rites of Passage by Joy Hensley

Rites of Passage
by Joy Hensley
To be published by Harper Teen
on September 9, 2014

Source: e-ARC from publisher for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
My take: I read plenty of YA fantasy and dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic stories featuring strong, brave, kickass girls. But it was really refreshing to read a realistic YA that featured a tough-as-nails female protagonist. As such, this book represents something really different for YA and I enjoyed it.

Sam's the only daughter in a military family and, on a dare from her brother, becomes one of the first female cadets at a prestigious military academy. She faces tough training but also a lot of animosity from people who don't think she should be there. She's not even sure how deep or widespread this animosity really is. Some people are openly antagonistic, while others might be secretly plotting against her.

Sam was an amazing character - tough and determined but also very loyal and principled. She supported her fellow female cadets and even felt bad when her entire company was targeted and treated more harshly as a way to make her quit. There's a romance - a surprising one, but I thought it worked in the context of the story. (And it was also surprisingly steamy, if you like that kind of thing.)

This being realistic fiction, there are limits to what a character like Sam can do when bullied at a military academy. She can't transform into a werewolf or shoot lightning bolts out of her fingers. She can a) quit or b) grit her teeth and take the abuse. This did make the story more poignant but at times I felt that all the training/bullying sequences started to blur together and that the middle of the book felt a little long. However, the addition of a mysterious good samaritan character and an equally mysterious (yet sinister) secret society helped ameliorate that for me.

I didn't expect a sappy, happy ending, but I also felt that there were some compelling issues regarding Sam's family that were raised, then kind of got left by the wayside toward the end. But the climactic scenes were really great -- so suspenseful and gripping that I could not put my kindle down until I knew what happened.

All in all, Rites of Passage is a welcome breath of fresh air in the YA world of make-believe dystopias and petty high school drama. Those mean girls of YA would not last a single day at a place like Denmark Military Academy.  If you usually shy away from YA contemporaries because they're not gripping or action-packed, this book could be for you. And if you love realistic YA, definitely give this a try!

If you're inspired, check out this interactive feature on the women of West Point @ The New York Times.

21 comments:

  1. This is a great review! I've read so much about this book, and it is so positive! This is awesome because based on the cover and the synopsis, I'm not sure it would have grabbed my attention alone. HOWEVER, the reaction it has received from my reading friends and peers means so much to me and I'll probably pick it up when the dust settles a little from it. I have read another review that mentions the end feeling a little rushed, which is a little bit of a bummer, but I still think I'm pretty interested in it.

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    1. I also wasn't sure if it was for me, then went and downloaded it from Edelweiss after someone else raved about it. Give it a try -- I think you will love it!

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  2. That's a great point you make - neither do I read about kickass protagonists in the contemporary genre. Not that there aren't books that don't have those still, but kickass female protagonists do seem much more well-known and expected in various speculative fiction genres.
    Despite a few issues you had here and there, it sounds like you definitely enjoyed this one overall. And now you've tempted me to give it a try.
    Lovely review, Jen!

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    1. I think it's so great to see a real-life heroine in YA :)

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  3. Ah! I loved this book! It was so different and fresh. You are so right! Sam's a kickass!
    Amazing review! So glad you enjoyed it!
    Lis @ The reader lines

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  4. It's nice to read something fresh in YA. I think we're going to start to get more variety. *fingers crossed*

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  5. I laughed at the transform into a werewolf part ;) Love your review! I hope to read this book soon if I can but it's definitely on my list!

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  6. Oh I love kick ass girls! The reviews have me so excited to read this one. So happy to see you really liked this one too.

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  7. Everything but the ending was perfect, I completely agree. I wanted those family issues resolved or at the very least discussed, and that's why I'm hoping for a sequel. Who knows, maybe we will get one.

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  8. This is actually one of the best debut books I read this year. As you said, it was a refreshing take on though female character and I never read a military book, so this was a big hit for me. Great review Jen!

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  9. Oh man. I've been frantically waiting for this book's release due to the overwhelming positive reactions from everyone! I'm so glad it's been a majority of opinion so far. :)

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  10. This book sounds interesting! Sometimes I find the 'kick ass chick' trope annoying, but this book sounds like it actually makes it unique and interesting

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  11. Oh oh I totally want to read this. Even though I have nothing against characters popping into werewolf fur occasionally and eating things they shouldn't. BUT realistic contemporaries/thrillers/whatever-this-actually-is-classifed-as are totally needed in my opinion. I like tough characters and the military training part sounds SO interesting.

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  12. Totally agree about a contemp tough girl that I can admire so much

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  13. " If you usually shy away from YA contemporaries because they're not gripping or action-packed"- that is so me! I've just heard about this book recently, and I have to say, I'm intrigued. I'm definitely gonna read this book, I love the whole secret society thing concept!

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  14. Ok this settles it I need to get my hands on this book asap! Everyone is raving about it and it sounds like exactly the sort of contemporary I would love, Lovely review!

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  15. Awesome review! I've heard great things about this book!

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  16. I think the most interesting part of this book was finding out that the author herself went to military school on a dare! You could not have paid me to go to military school though.

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  17. I've heard this one is pretty great from pretty much everyone. Though, the biggest complaint does seem to be how easily that ending wrapped everything up and left a few things unresolved or otherwise not delved into as they should have been. Guess I'm going to have to give this one a try. :)

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  18. Loved it and was sad by it too. My brother is in the military and has told me what boot camp is like. I would not have survived. I would have been Jax and how she reacts to authority. I agree about some of the ending. There is one part I want to see how you feel about it but don't want to ruin it. Good book though.

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