Book Review: Young Adult: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

rites cover

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.

Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 402 pages
ISBN-10: 0062295195
ISBN-13: 9780062295194

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:

Themes: Military, Family, Sexism
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: Another paperback ARC from Atsiko. I was a bit reluctant to read this one, because it did’t seem like my usual type of book. I was wrong.


I’m glad I read this book. The main character was a true strong female character. No excessive whining, knew how to handle a challenge, and was almost never unfair to her friends. That’s not to say she was perfect, which I would have hated. She had her flaws, but I was rarely angry at her for them. Plus, she felt completely like a real teenage girl, and not a stereotype, or an exaggeration.

The supporting cast was also wonderful. One of the great things about having a single limited perspective is that you get to see the various facets of a character, and you can really get in the shoes of the perspective character. For example, Sam’s brother was an incredibly frustrating character for most of the book, and I could understand why Sam felt the exact same way. And Kelly, one of her main trio of cadet friends had a similar feel. I loved how Hensley dealt with the idea of a good person causing trouble and pain for those around them. There are other characters I loved who I don’t want to spoil for you, but there was another female character in the book whose original connection to Sam only made the relationship they later developed more awesome. I happen to consider myself a feminist. And that means that the way this relationship passed the Bechdel test with flying colors made me really happy.

The only supporting character I disliked as a character was the love interest. He was a very nice person, and quite supportive, but I found him a bit dull, and while the relationship was perfectly healthy, I just didn’t care for it. I would have liked it better if Sam had just stayed single for the book. Especially because of the emphasis made on cadets not dating. It seemed like there was plot pressure and authorial intrusion because, as several other reviews have called it, the relationship was “off-limits”. A good way to describe the relationship without spoilers is that it greatly resembles Beatrice’s relationship with Four in Roth’s Divergent. So I’m sure many readers will like it. Take my dislike with a grain of salt.

Finally, I disliked the melodramatic lengths the story went to at the end. I think it could have been dialed down a bit without losing any of the impact. I just got really, really tired of the frustration I felt for the last two thirds, and I think it was unnecessary for the obstacles to be as huge as they ended up being. If you’ve ever seen any other military school stories–another review mentioned Cadet Kelly with Hilary Duff–or stories about crossing the gender barrier, you won’t find anything unique or original in this book, but the quality of the execution is very good. Definitely worth a read.

Conclusion: 77/100 (Loved reading it. Quite a roller-coaster.)
Premise: 7/10 (Not the most original, but very well-executed)
Plot: 7/10 (Standard and a bit melodramatic at the end)
Setting: 8/10 (Very well-portrayed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Awesome)
Love Interest 7/10 (Fairly standard)
Romance Sub-plot 7/10 (Sweet, but seemed a bit forced)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 (Loved or hated most of them. A compliment either way)
Writing: 3/5 (Good, but not inspired.)
Voice: 4/5 (Spunky!)
Themes: 8/10 (Fit with the story and were well-executed)
Resolution: 9/10 (Loved it, but it wasn’t perfect)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say this one is definitely worth buying.

Similar Books:
It’s fantasy, but Mercedes Lackey’s Talia novels have a similar vibe and structure.
Divergent by Veronica Roth, for reasons explained in the main review.

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Lit-Up Review
Alexa Loves Books
The Bookish Owl
Reading Lark

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK
Kindle US
Google Play


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