Book Review: Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Page Count: 416
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

As a teen, I as mesmerized by the works of Pat Conroy. One of my favorite novels written by Conroy, The Lords of Discipline, follows young cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. I was drawn to Rites of Passage because of the military school setting and how it instantly drew my mind back to an old favorite. While this novel is set at a military high school and The Lords of Discipline focuses on a military college, I did find that some of the experiences were similar. The most striking difference between the two novels is the gender of the main character. Rites of Passage is the story of Samantha (aka Sam) McKenna and her quest to be one of the first female cadets at the Denmark Military Academy in Virginia. Like Conroy, Hensley does an amazing job of painting a portrait of the life of a cadet. 

Sam is a military brat who aches to serve her country like her father and older brother, Amos. After Amos' tragic death, Sam decides to follow through on the dare he gave her to attend DMA. Not everyone is happy with her decision. Her mother will barely talk to her or look her in the eye; she's still reeling from Amos' death and she can't understand why Sam would want anything to do with the lifestyle that killed her brother. Her other brother, Jonathan, is also less than thrilled. He has risen through the ranks at DMA and is now the cadet who runs the show. He worries that his sister's presence on campus will steal his thunder and put him in an awkward position. Furthermore, Sam has numerous faceless enemies who believe that female students do not belong at DMA.

Sam finds that life in military school isn't all sunshine and patriotic roses. It's hard work, sweat, and lack of sleep. Sam and the three other female cadets are not cut any slack and in most cases, the older cadets push them harder than the boys. I had to admire Sam's courage and gumption. I certainly would not have been able to stand the workouts and belittling attitudes. I was impressed that she kept her cool and never snapped.

As the story progresses, Sam soon realizes that it's more than hostility that is working against her at DMA. There is a secret organization, The Society, that has been around since the school's formation that doesn't want to see her succeed at the institution. Sam must decide who she can trust before someone removes her from the equation permanently. This aspect of the novel added a bit of mystery. There were moments when I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest because I was so worried about Sam.

In addition to the military aspects and the mystery swirling around The Society, there was also an emphasis on friendship. I liked that Sam's relationships with her friends are her supportive safety net. There are many people who support her and want to see her win over The Society. One of those friends has potential to be something more, but the romance is very chaste. While I understood the ins and outs of the romance in this one, I have to say I was disappointed by some of the decisions made by Sam and the boy who captures her heart. Their situation seems impossible and that makes it all the more bittersweet to read. It was also nice that the romance wasn't the driving force of the story.

Overall, I loved every moment I spent with Rites of Passage. I love seeing a novel with a strong female character who doesn't play the role of the damsel in distress. Sam is strong and brave; she can take care of herself, but she's also smart enough to realize when she needs help. I also loved seeing a female tackle a male dominated institution and illustrate that the gender divide is archaic. We need more girls to tackle gender prejudice. 

One Last Gripe: I was frustrated by Dean's decision - even though I understood it.

Favorite Thing About This Book: The Girl Power - this novel oozes with it!

First Sentence: I'm physically incapable of saying no to a dare - I've got the scars and broken bone count to prove it.

Favorite Character: Sam

Least Favorite Character: Matthews

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.


  1. I always admire female characters who are strong and independent, only because that is what I strive to be, always. I'm glad Sam was like that in Rites of Passage. I'm not sure how much I would like a novel like this, but I feel like this one's more for my older sister who was in the army. :)

    1. The novel does focus heavily on gender roles in the military so it may not be a read for everyone. I found that it reminded me a bit of The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy - one of my favorites. That one doesn't focus on a female student, but also details the life of a cadet in military school.

  2. LOVE how it's about a girl in the military adn it's a contemporary!! Usually when a girl is in military schools, it's a dystopian but I love how we get a glimpse into what military schools are like!!

    LOVE the gender roles and dynamics!

    Lovely review :)

    1. You need to read this one if you're interested in commentary on gender roles and military school dynamics. It also doesn't hurt that Sam is so stubborn and inspiring.

  3. This isn't usually my thing but I have heard so many good things that I kind of have to read it!

    1. I'm glad you're considering giving it a try. It is well worth the time.

  4. I've heard a few things about this book and i'm excited to see if this meets up to my expectations :)


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