Contemporary Realistic Fiction · Review · Young Adult

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

Rites of Passage by Joy N. HensleyPublisher: HarperTeen

Pub. Date: 2014

Genre: Contemporary YA

Pages: 401

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

About two months ago, I said something to my mom about wanting someone to write a YA book with a girl who either is in JROTC or at least wants to join the military. The universe answered, and I found Rites of Passage, by Joy N. Hensley, at the library a week later. I got around to reading it a few weeks after that, and I loved it.

Sam McKenna took the last dare that her brother gave her before he died: she joined the first class of girls at Denmark Military Academy. She expected the physical requirements, like push ups and mud crawls, and some hate for being one of the first female students at the school, but she didn’t expect how much some of the boys want her gone. When they start brutally hazing her, she realizes they aren’t acting alone. A secret society is alive and determined to force her out through any means necessary. Now Sam has to decide who she can trust because choosing wrong could cost her her life.

Sam has to live up to a dare and a family legacy, and she expects herself to succeed in this environment. She doesn’t fear that she would never succeed or thrive; she expects herself to achieve the highest she can. She learns where to place her trust, how to survive against extreme hate, and discovers a new purpose behind her enrollment at the DMA.

Other characters developed too. Kelly and Cross learn who they can trust and where their morals lie. All of the remaining recruits at the end of the year to learn how to work as a unit, which is what the first-year experience is all about.

Even though I accurately predicted characters’ assumptions about each other, Hensley kept up tension and frustration. Once I got about a third of the way through, I felt the building frustration with the system, and it was thrilling as a reader to feel what Sam felt. Some of the frustration was with the members of the secret society. Some of it was with certain recruits not helping the female cause.

There is some romance, but I am supremely happy that it was minor and didn’t take over the whole book. Although I thought this was good, the dating part was a little inconsistent. The female students are warned that all dating is forbidden this year and that the DMA will follow military guidelines about dating above rank. I would think the first rule would have more power than the latter, but then the school seems to run on the second rule only.

Since the novel is set in a military school, I expected several action scenes. Hensley wrote them well so that they were happening fast and so that there was an overall sense of what happened. The thing that bothered me was that sometimes it happened so fast that I wasn’t quite sure what Sam and her recruit buddies were doing. I suppose if I saw it live action, I would know immediately what happened, but it left me a little confused.

If you have wanted to see a girl in a military setting, if you want to see a strong girl and her perseverance against the odds, Rites of Passage is worth the read.


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