Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #80: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #80: Rites of Passage by Joy N. HensleyRites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
Published by HarperTeen on September 9, 2014
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
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four-half-stars

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.

Recommended by: Katie

I cannot remember the last time a book made me feel so incredibly, incandescently, indescribably enraged. Seriously, I was filled with anger for most of the book. Loathing. Unadulterated loathing. Right now, I can see you looking at the rating and wondering whether I slipped up. No, I didn’t. This book pissed me off more than most any other, but it MEANT to make me feel that way. This review will involve a good deal of ranting, but that’s not directed at the book. Rites of Passage is an intense read about gender and the military, which made me want to go on a nutpunching rampage.

My expectations going into Rites of Passage were something along the lines of Cadet Kelly, the Disney Channel Original Movie where Hilary Duff is sent to a military academy. It’s fluffy and fun and there’s romance. On the one hand, they’re definitely ripe for comparison, but there’s nothing fluffy about Rites of Passage. The key difference is that there were other women in positions of power at the military academy Hilary Duff went to (most notably Ren Stevens as a badass drill sergeant). Sam McKenna is one of five girls to attend Denmark Military Academy, and they are not wanted.

Sam McKenna is from a military family. She knows the regulations and has lived them for most of her life. Her father’s a colonel and both her brothers followed in his footsteps. Before he died, her favorite brother, Amos, dared Sam to attend the DMA. After his death, she had no choice but to follow through, because she owes it to her love of him. Plus, she’s as ready as anyone can be for the challenges of a military academy. She knows what will be asked of her and she’s both strong and determined.

In fact, Sam IS ready. She’s basically a model recruit. She’s able to bear up for the physical challenges. Though she doesn’t usually finish first, she’s generally near the front of the pack. The rules of the academy are already drilled into her. A military academy is tough and not remotely fluffy. Recruits are not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, even though sidewalks are literally made for walking. They have to sandwich the rank of anyone above them, like “Drill Sergeant Stamm, yes, Drill Sergeant Stamm,” which to my mind is a completely pointless and idiotic waste of time. Pretty much every single rule is there to dehumanize the recruits. While I will never ever understand any of this being necessary on an emotional level, it’s intended to bring the class of recruits together and make them 1) work hard and 2) work as a team.

Still, that’s what Sam signed up for and she could handle that. Unfortunately, this DMA is populated by misogynistic shitbags and from day one everyone has been telling her to go home and stop polluting the academy. Sam responds not by acting out but by holding herself to ever higher standards of excellence. Meanwhile, she’s consistently berated for holding her company back and for being weak and inferior, even though she’s much better than many of the other recruits. Watching this is agony. People abuse her verbally and physically in an effort to make her leave. Clearly, these dickwad arsehole shitheads are aware that, if women come to the academy, the females might just excel. If they truly believed women were inferior, they could have just left the women alone and waited for them to inevitably fail. Secretly, these boys know women are strong enough and that’s why they’re so afraid. FUCK THE PATRIARCHY.

What happens to Sam is completely disgusting, not because she’s a girl, but because she’s being held to a different standard because she’s a girl. Sam doesn’t need or want special treatment. She does all the same physical activity as everyone else. The only reason they claim she can’t hack it is because her genitals are on the inside. It’s such fucking bullshit. And all she can do is either drop out or accept the abuse quietly, because the military will always believe people of higher rank. I FEEL SO MUCH RAGE.

For a lot of the book, Sam’s completely alone. No one is on her side and it is painful to watch. The way her family doesn’t stand by her is what really kicked me in the emotional kidneys. Her mom, especially, who is completely outside the military academy and draws away for non-political reasons. Losing one child is a shitty reason to push away the rest of them. What kills me about this book is how plausible it seems. I want to be able to say, “this book is unrealistic because there’s no way people would have allowed the vendetta against Sam to get this far,” but I really just can’t. Removing prejudice is an incredibly slow process and I think the military, by its nature, is probably even slower.

There is a bit of a romance and, at first, I wasn’t a fan of that. Sam is such a rule-follower and so set on making it through this year to ease the path for other female recruits to follow that I couldn’t see her risking her place on kissing. However, I think Hensley handled it perfectly. There’s a ship there for you to enjoy, but Sam’s pretty careful about what she does. Despite the hormones, she cares about her military career first. It fits with Sam’s personality and I won’t complain about adding shippy moments that make sense.

The one thing that didn’t ring true for me was Jax. During her first days, Sam gets an email from an account called jaxhax telling her to quit the DMA. Eventually, you learn who Jax is and that she wants to help Sam. Conveniently, Jax is a hacker and has exactly the skills needed to make the plot possible. Her presence is too convenient and her character’s rather inconsistent, I find, in order to fit the demands of the plot. Honestly, the whole larger plot that Jax is needed for really didn’t do much for me anyway. I don’t feel like things needed to be conspiracy theory intense.

Rites of Passage is an intense consideration of gender roles and expectations in a military academy. It might make you want to feminist smash some stuff, but it’s a really great, worthwhile read. Now, I think I need to watch Cadet Kelly to recover.

Favorite Quote:

“Denmark’s discipline committee was a group of cadets whose only job was to remove from the DMA any cadet found to lack the ideal of a soldier. From what I can tell, they were first trying to deal with African-Americans, maybe gays. Trying to keep the DMA, and the military as a whole, pure.”

“Right. Like Hitler, or Voldemort.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif cadet kelly dance
I like to imagine they’re gleefully stomping the patriarchy.

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12 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #80: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley”

  1. Lyn Kaye says:

    Is this set in Denmark, or in the US? I assumed Denmark, because of the name, but the quote about African Americans made me doubt myself.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: Bleed Like MeMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      In the US. Not sure why it’s Denmark Military Academy, but that’s what it’s called. I’m not precisely sure where it’s set other than the US somewhere. I think a state was mentioned but I forgot.

  2. Looks like I wasn’t the only one who read the synopsis and thought of Cadet Kelly 🙂 I actually watched it with my little cousin right after I finished the book.
    Sam’s family and those sexist society douchebags made me so angry!
    My only complaint is about the conclusion. The story didn’t feel complete. I would’ve liked more closure with Sam’s family problems and her romance with Drill Sergeant Stamm.
    Dana @ The Nerdy Journalist recently posted…TGIF Weekly Recap | Aug. 15, 2014My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Nope, you were not. That was my first thought, in fact.

      Hmmm, I thought it was a pretty good amount of closure for the family. She’s going to have time to work things out with dad, mom’s getting help, and she talked to Jonathan. The romance admittedly is left wide open. I’m wondering if there will be a sequel announcement. I didn’t mind it being open in this case, since the occasional not HEA is refreshing for me.

  3. LOATHING.

    UNADULTERATED LOATHING.

    FOR YOUR HAIR (your voice) YOUR CLOTHING

    ahem okay, totally surprised that this isn’t fluffy. I had seriously expected it to play out like Cadet Kelly, but then again that would explain the bunch of status updates I’ve seen in which readers say they had cried while reading the book.
    Blythe Harris recently posted…Review + Giveaway: Don’t Touch by Rachel M. WilsonMy Profile

  4. I’m very excited to read this one! Even more so because of your review (and the Cadet Kelly shout out). I’m tentatively planning on going to a signing of this book, but it may not be in the book budget… I went a little crazy this month. 🙂
    Kate @ Midnight Book Girl recently posted…Audio Review of TeaseMy Profile

  5. Iris says:

    I’m really excited to read Rites of Passage, and I love your review. I’ll probably be as mad/pissed off/irritated as you, but still, it sounds like a really good read!
    Can’t wait to read it!
    Iris recently posted…What’s up with the Silence on IrisjeXx?My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Pretty sure any feminist is going to feel the rage on this one. It’s a good rage, because the book totally agrees, but OH MAN.

  6. Ha, I remember Cadet Kelly, but yes, there are the differences. Glad you enjoyed. i am about halfway through and loving Sam’s strength

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