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.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.
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.
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.