Joy N. Hensley
Contemporary Young Adult
Available September 9th
THE STORY (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.
Rites of Passage is a phenomenal debut from Ms. Hensley, gripping from first page to last with the only source of disappointment stemming from the fact that it actually ends. It’s a book that doesn’t allow us room to think about becoming emotionally invested, rather it gives us a young woman of extraordinary determination who yanks us into her story with the sheer force of her impressive will. Once there, we find ourselves angry to a degree we’ve rarely reached between the covers of a book, and we can’t help but be grateful that Sam’s story–though likely more than real in so many ways–is fictional, and with that fact comes the comfort of knowing the cruelty she’s subjected to will not go unpunished in the end.
Sam is a young woman we can’t help but be proud to know despite the fact that she exists only on the pages of her story, her fight to stay at the Denmark Military Academy no matter what abuse she faces one that has us ready to raise our fists and inflict physical damage on her behalf. With every demeaning comment and every spiteful ploy to get her to quit she only digs her heels in harder, taking each blow on the chin and to the gut but never once letting them see that their blows made contact. She battles impossible odds as well as both indifference and betrayal from those who should be first in line to support her, and while she gets worn down as the mistreatment continues mercilessly, she still straightens her shoulders and manages to show proper respect to a chain of command that does nothing to protect her.
Threaded through Sam’s epic battle to pave the way for other young women set on attending the DMA is a tension-filled romance with her drill sergeant, a relationship executed so perfectly that despite the fact it exists on the periphery of Sam’s daily fight, it becomes an unforgettable piece of her story. Drill is one of the few people who restores our faith in humanity while reading, proof that power and control in the hands of the strong are tools that build people up, while those same things wielded by the weak do nothing but tear people down. He is a safe haven for Sam as much as he can be with the rules of fraternization in place and their ranks an obstacle they may never be able to overcome, and though the focus remains resolutely on the inspiration that is Sam, we couldn’t be more thankful for his presence in her life.
We’re left with two major villainous players in place and free from the justice they so richly deserve, but overall things for Sam wrap up nicely as her first year at the academy comes to a close. There’s room for more of her story though if we’re lucky enough to see a sequel from Ms. Hensley, and there's little doubt in my mind that everyone who picks this book up will reach the last page and want more. Rites of Passage is a debut that should absolutely not be missed, a powerhouse of a novel with a heroine who has us wanting to scream, yell and thump our chests in an outrageous show of solidarity for her ability to make it through what we’re nearly positive we’d never have the strength to endure.
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review.
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.