In this fast-paced, high-stakes debut novel, sixteen-year-old Sam McKenna discovers that becoming one of the first girls to attend a revered military academy means living with a target on her back. As Sam struggles to prove herself, she learns that a decades-old secret society is alive and active . . . and determined to force her out. Fans of Simone Elkeles and Trish Doller will love Rites of Passage’s perfect blend of sizzling romance and edge-of-your-seat suspense.
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Sam is such an amazing character. She's so strong-willed and tough. And let me tell you, they put her through so much crap in this school, I wanted to punch faces for her. This is why I know I wouldn't make it in military school, because I would not have the patience that Sam had in dealing with some of those narrow-minded, jerk-faced creeps. I felt so much anger for Sam and it made me appreciate and respect so much seeing what she went through and knowing how she never let it deter her from reaching her goals. She is definitely someone I would like to hang out with in real life.
The romance was minimal, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Dean is such a good guy, very kind and sweet, yet also respectful. I liked how he pushed Sam, in a positive way, and helped her become a better recruit. Sure, I could've used more moments between the two, and I'm a bit saddened by how things worked out for them in some aspects, but it's understandable. It says a lot for a book when I love it even if there's barely any romance in it, so you know it's a good book!
I think I would've liked to have known more about Amos. Yes, we know why he died and how, but I would've liked to have known more about him as a person, considering how important he was to Sam. Maybe like memories of them together. I would've even settled for some memories of her and Jonathan, her other brother, who I really didn't like for much of the book. Honestly, I really didn't like anyone in her family. They were all pretty messed up in their own ways or self-involved and I was surprised to see how normal and relatable Sam turned out to be.
Also, I really didn't care any of the other girls. Katie was weak and Bekah definitely got on my nerves because of what she did throughout the book. I did like some of the guys though, those who actually supported Sam. You get a real sense of team work and comradery, which I really liked. As for the bad guys, Hensley did a great job at making me hate Matthews. What a jerk! It's that line of pig-headed, chauvinistic thinking that always works my nerves. I thought it was pretty crazy how far this secret society business went and who all was involved. Things are definitely more complicated and twisted than you'd think.
So yeah, Rites of Passage is just plain awesome. Seriously, I want a sequel to this book SO bad! The ending was great and all, but I wanted more. I want to know what happens next. I need more of these characters. That's how good this book is. I love the message that it sends to girls, so positive and done right! In a realistic world, you can't get more kick-ass than Sam McKenna. Overall, I'd say this was one of my favorite books of the year and definitely a stellar debut. Everyone needs to read this book!
Rites of Passage is an empowering story, one that female AND male readers alike will appreciate and enjoy. (My 14 year old son read it and LOVED it!) Well-written, fast paced and action packed, once I started reading, I found it incredibly difficult to put down! When I finally did though, I felt the urge to do a hundred push-ups. I made it to twenty three before deciding it wasn't necessary to try and kill myself. Because, you know, push-ups suck.
Sam McKenna is the perfect blend of fierce determination, vulnerability and feminine strength. (I could totally relate to her not ever turning down a dare. I too have been known to do crazy things just because someone dared me, although nothing quite like joining what is essentially a "boys only" club.) But I LOVE that Sam refuses to give up when things gets tough. She doesn't she allow those around her to break her spirit either, even when the people closest to her encourage her quit.
Find a different way to prove herself.
Sam just keeps going.
(For the record, I would've gone AWOL the first time someone screamed for me to drop and give them twenty.)
And then there is Drill.
The romance in this story definitely kicked my heart rate into gear and had me fanning my face a few times, but it stays realistic and doesn't overshadow the more important themes of honor, courage and loyalty. Kudos to Joy Hensley for that because if it had been me, "PT" would have stood for, "Pucker-up Time." ;)
What Left Me Wanting More: Nothing. (Except maybe more Drill.)
Final Verdict: Read it!
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 feminist 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 misogynistics 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 sexist boys 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. DOWN WITH 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 crap. 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 horrible 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.
What Left Me Wanting More:
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.
The Final Verdict:
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.
I got an ARC of Rites of Passage this month on a whim. It looked interesting and I thought "why not?" I hadn't heard of it before, but once I got it, I started seeing it everywhere all over the internet. The other week, I saw it on my shelf, and decided to pick it up. I was obsessed like that. I loved the characters instantly, and by loved them, I wanted to stab a bunch of them. Repeatedly. But with love. The main character is part of the first class of girls at a previously all-boys military academy. Needless to say, she is not treated well by many of the populace.
Oftentimes, contemporary books don't have a clear antagonist. It's often along the lines of the main character's mind, or an oversensitive parent. In this, there is a definite antagonist, though I'm hoping for a sequel with more details. The main character Sam is pretty awesome. She goes to the school on a dare from her brother that passed away the year before. Sam is one of the few recruits made for military life, but she gets pushed to the breaking point over and over again. There's Corporal Matthews, which I want to stab for the rest of my life. Matthews is HORRIBLE to Sam. He is extremely sexist and just ARGH! But I digress. There's also Becka, on of the other female recruits, and while at first I thought she was a ditz, she really came around. Lastly, there's Drill AKA Drill Sergeant Stamm, AKA Dean. I honestly loved his character. He treats the male and female recruits the same, and is willing to help Sam when no one else will.
I really enjoyed the writing in the book. It was very to the point. There was a lot of military terminology that I didn't understand, but that was about it.
The first bit of the book was a lot of verbal abuse towards Sam and military training. About halfway through though, the plot gets jump started. Suddenly, everything starts to make sense. Characters fall into place and references start making sense. Needless to say, I loved it.
I really could see the world of the military academy. There was a good bit of vague description that I would like to know more about, but also understand. The main character didn't get to see much of campus, so we readers didn't either. Why didn't she see much of campus? Mainly because she was either busy doing military things/classes, or was in trouble for reasons and couldn't go anywhere.
This book drew me in right from the beginning and I definitely was not prepared for how emotional I would get while reading it. It was exhausting in a good way.
Sam was one of the most interesting characters I’ve read so far this year. She was bad-ass, she was strong, she was resilient, she was a fighter, she was caring, she was determined, she was everything I expected her to be and so much more. I would have cracked the first day but Sam took everything they threw at her and refused to break even when things seemed so hopeless. I loved that her being so military rules focused and determined not to cave didn’t mean she never showed emotions. The hazing, the harassment, it got to her. Definitely a favourite character.
I also loved that we saw the other female recruits and that none of them were similar, just like the male recruits. They all reacted to things differently, they all had their own reasons for attending, they all found different ways to cope. Another highlight(among many) was the relationships that we saw develop among the Alpha group that Sam was a member of. And I loved how it was hard to tell who to trust, even the people you’d normally think would be on Sam’s side had moments of doubt, any of them could have been a member of the society trying to get rid of her.
There was tension through the whole book, and different kinds of tension. Tension from the recruits always being yelled at, tension from the society trying to break Sam, tension from family secrets and family relationships, and romantic tension from forbidden relationships. So much tension! I loved it.
I thought the pacing was handled really well. It was fast but not overwhelming, and it felt like it was fast because the recruits were always doing something. They were in motion so the plot was in motion.
This book will definitely be on my list of top books of the year.