Yes, I know that I am constantly talking about this, but once again, I decided to go outside my comfort zone a little recently. I picked up a book that didn’t seem like quite my “type,” and was completely blown away. So thanks to the marketing team at HarperTeen, because without their work promoting the book, I probably never would have picked up Rites of Passage. And I would definitely have been missing out if I hadn’t!
What I Just Read: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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.
Did I Like It: I loved it!
Thoughts: There were two parts of the synopsis of this book that made me think it might not be my “type” of book. The first was the over-emphasis on romance. I read the line about Sam’s attraction to her drill sergeant etc., and my first thought was “romance is all well and good, but it sounds like there are WAY more important things going on, and I sure hope this girl wouldn’t risk it all just for a boy.” More on that in a minute. The other thing that initially steered me away from this book was the military academy aspect. Something about that just didn’t gel with me. I love a good contemporary fiction book, I enjoy boarding school stories, and a huge chunk of the fantasy novels I read heavily feature a fictionalized and fantastical military, but I guess I just couldn’t get into the idea of those three worlds colliding.
How wrong I was. Rites of Passage brings military school to life in a completely absorbing way. I read this book so fast my head spun. I couldn’t help myself, even though by halfway through I knew I was going to be sad to leave Sam at the end of the book. Joy N. Hensley attended a military school, so she knows her stuff. From the crazy scary hazing-via-physical fitness (which simultaneously made me feel super weak and feel like working out all day) to the formal language for interactions with superiors to the camaraderie that being in such an intense situation can inspire, I was there.
Not only that, but Sam was a fantastic central character. She wasn’t flawless, but she was strong, stubborn, tough as nails, and determined to succeed not only for her own sake, but for the sake of her brother and the next class of female recruits as well. Having such a fantastic character at the heart of the book made it worth reading about the horrible abuse Sam suffers, because I was rooting for her so hard. And the romance was there, it was good, but it never detracted from the high stakes of Sam’s survival and success at the academy, and it never made Sam question her priorities. So in other words, the romance was perfect.
All in all, Rites of Passage was the kind of book that sucks you in and doesn’t let go. Sam was an inspiring protagonist, the world of the military academy was enveloping, and the side plots and characters were interesting and realistic without ever detracting from the main character and plot. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone!