Rites of Passage by Joy Hensley
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.
I'm kind of a sucker for movies and stories about military academies and boot camps. I blame Hilary Duff and Jessica Simpson. That said, as entertaining and fun as those movies are... that is totally not what this book is. If you pick this up craving Cadet Kelly in book-form, please readjust those expectations.
Sam McKenna doesn't turn down a dare no matter how scary or ridiculous, so when her oldest brother dares her to join Denmark Military Academy, a school exclusively for boys until now, she does it. Thus begins the horrors of hazing that go beyond the norm and are brutally and specifically targeted towards the newest members of the academy - the females. And what starts off as a playful dare from her brother, turns into a promise to honor him and ultimately herself.
Sam is one of the toughest characters ever, not only physically but emotionally and has so much more restraint and courage than most of us. And the secondary characters (consisting of the other girls at DMA, a super hot and sweet Drill Sergeant, her oldest brother Amos only present through Sam's memories, and the horrible other brother and evil villain Matthews) were wonderfully crafted as well, some 100% more likable than others, but Joy Hensley has talent for sure, making her characters as awesome and awful and realistic as they are for ink on paper. If you want something that will make you RAGE and air punch and tear up and become inspired and even swoon, this is your book.
And speaking of swooning (btw, there is a bit of romance in here, but it doesn't seem at all misplaced, no worries), can we just take a moment to HOT DAMN over Dean Stamm because I mean really. I'm all for an attractive guy in uniform, but a guy who is super fine and treats Sam not only as, you know, a human being and an equal, but with the respect she deserves as a super awesome strong girl? *SWOONIN' EVERYWHERE*
So not only is Sam a great Cadet, how bout it for those mega awesome super powers she must possess to keep her hands off Drill whenever he's near because I mean REALLY. So attractive. Ok I'll stop now.
Because this is so much more about a stubborn girl and her hella fine Drill Sergeant. It's a story about a girl sticking up for herself and women everywhere, for what she believes in and what is right.