Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Narrator(s): Khristine Hvam
Series:  n/a
Length: 10 hrs 28 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source: audiobook received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

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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 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.

When I first saw this book pop up on Edelweiss, I passed on it. I saw my friends snagging it and I saw it mentioned on Goodreads again and again, and still I passed. I just didn't think this was going to be my kind of book. The cover did nothing to disprove that theory, either. I even think that the first time I read that summary, I was under the impression that the story was a dystopian, what with the mention of a secret society and such.

Boy, was I ever wrong. I should have guessed that it was more military-geared based on the cover, but even that alone wouldn't have piqued my interest the way all of the reviews from my fellow bloggers did. So, when I was offered a chance to review the audio for this novel, I jumped at the chance, especially when I realized that Khristine Hvam was the narrator. She's one of my very favorites, having narrated many, many of the audiobooks I've listened to over the last few years, and it would have to be one terrible story for me not to enjoy her portrayal. As it stands, I loved this book that much more because of Hvam's narration. I felt everything as Sam experienced it: the betrayals, the injustice, the pull toward Drill. I don't think I could love this story more because of her excellent performance.

I enjoyed the military aspect of this story, though it wasn't my favorite part. I actually considered going into the Air Force right out of high school, but school had already been so regimented for me that I decided I needed a break and a chance to be a normal teenager, at least for a little while. Sam, on the other hand, was raised in a military family. She ate, slept, and drank the military regimen from the time she could walk, and she's still doing it. After a family tragedy and a dare that she couldn't back down from, she's joining Denmark Military Academy as part of the first class to allow females into their program. And not many are happy about this development.

Sam is such a fierce, determined character, not badass in that she's perfect at everything she attempts. But every time she doesn't succeed or doesn't do her best, she picks herself back up and tries again. I think that's the sign of a true who doesn't have an easy go of it but continues just the same. That determination of Sam's instantly booted her to my list of favorite characters. Sam is constantly bombarded with reminders that very few people want her at the DMA and many will go to great lengths to see her fail or to get her to quit. She's pretty stiff competition for a lot of the male recruits, and that does nothing to help her situation.

But not everyone and not every recruit is against Sam. There are three other female recruits in the program, though the allusions to female solidarity that I've seen in some reviews kind of boggle my mind. These girls should have stuck together and rooted for each other's success, but instead, some are no-shows, some give up, some let the bullies win, and some join the other side. She did have one true female supporter along the way, and she was probably the most important to begin with. However, Sam has a few male friends in the academy, too, ones who understand unity and working as a company and not for their own advancement, and they make the experience slightly less taxing for Sam.

Rites of Passage is pretty brilliant. The author takes the military experience, feminism, and a secret society and meshes them to create this absolutely intriguing story. And then she goes and creates this totally swoon-worthy romance that is scorching hot, not because it's forbidden but because it's so genuine and the love interest has Sam's best interests at heart. He's not a bad boy. He's not a douche. He's just her Drill Sergeant, and he's not afraid of a strong female who's willing to prove herself, no matter what.

My only complaint about this book is that I think part of my copy was missing. I am usually a fan of an open ending, but after all these characters had suffered -- for their own dreams and for each other -- well, I just hoped for more of a resolution for them. Not necessarily a happy ending, mind you, but at least a real hint at what their future held.

Rites of Passage will go down as one of my very favorite debuts of 2014, one of my favorite audiobooks of the year, and probably the best representation of the military experience I've read to date.  I'm really hoping there will be a sequel or some kind of novella, at least, to provide a more resolute ending, but as it is, this is still one of the best books I've read all year. I absolutely loved this story. Many thanks to all the bloggers who reviewed it and pushed me to give it a chance!

GIF it to me straight:
Book, I salute you!

About the author:

Joy N. Hensley is a former middle school teacher. She used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students. Once upon a time she went to a military school on a dare. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, finding as many ways as she can to never do another push-up again.

Find Joy:

Website | Twitter FacebookGoodreads


  1. Beautiful website with the starry sky. Rites of Passage looks good:)

  2. THANK YOU for reviewing the audiobook format of this one! I've seen everyone RAVE over it and I've passed it over too, mostly because of the cover. HOWEVER, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this narrator and I'll be much more likely to pick it up now and I'm ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS looking for new audiobooks. Wow, I'm really excited about this.

    See, with the all-caps and all? Thanks for the audiobook notes. Seriously.

  3. I loved this book and your review is inspiring to do an audio re-read. So glad you enjoyed the book too and to hear Rite of Passage translates so well to audio. And I agree with you that a sequel is definitely in order!

  4. I've heard good things about this book and have added to my TBR List, so I'm glad you liked it!

  5. I loved this story, this audiobook, this narrator! So good!

  6. This reminds me a little of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and seeing as how much I loved that book with its kick-ass narrator makes I think that I will like this book just as much. Super excited.


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