From the Back 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.
I'm always drawn to tough, capable heroines, and seeing all of the glowing reviews coupled with the relevancy of the subject matter made me want to give Rites of Passage a shot. The world of a military academy was pretty foreign to me, and so it took me a couple of chapters to get used to it and fully invested in the story, but once I reached that point, I could not put it down.
Sam McKenna comes from a military family. Her father is a special ops hero and both of her older brothers followed the call to serve, though the oldest, unfortunately, ended up taking his own life. Sam wants to serve too, to make good on a promise to her oldest brother, to prove that she is just as capable, and to not let the fact that she's a girl hold her back. But more than anything, she wants to make her father proud and to feel as worthy as her brothers in his eyes. As one of only four females accepted to the prestigious Denmark Military Academy (which seems to be a fictionalized version of the Virginia Military Institute), she's on her way to making history. But not everybody is rooting for her to succeed.
Sam has a bit of a leg up due to her own experiences with her father and brothers, so she's prepared for the rigors of physical training and military obedience. She's even prepared for the ostracism and ridicule of those who don't think women have any place at the academy. But she's not prepared for the lengths some people will go to to ensure that she doesn't graduate, or the powerful secret organization pulling their strings. Nor is she prepared for the contempt of her own brother, or for the compassion and respect of the one man she least expected to receive it from: her drill instructor. At first, the female recruits band together to keep each others' spirits up, but the group eventually falls apart in the face of such adversity, and with a little help from the secret society determined to see them fail. And that's when things really start to get dangerous for Sam, moving from painful (yet legal) punishments and humiliations to true attempts to harm her. But Sam is one tough cookie, and with the help of some unexpected allies, including the drill instructor she's falling for, she keeps going, keeps getting back up, keeps proving herself just as strong, disciplined, and worthy as any male there. But her resilience only infuriates those who want her out, and as the big year-end endurance test approaches, Sam realizes that they will not be satisfied with simply forcing her out. They're out for blood, and Sam's fight to pass to the next level become a fight for survival.
I was loving this story up to the beginning of the end. That's when things started to fall apart a bit for me. The big climax that had been building from page one happened too fast and was resolved with less effort than I expected. And I found myself less than satisfied at some of the explanations of the behavior of others. But I think that's what happens when you have a slow-simmering build-up (good) toward a quick resolution (not so good). Not enough time spent on making sure everything made complete sense at the end, resulting in a few plot holes here and there, and the more I think about it, the more I feel the ending of this story didn't get the attention it deserved. Neither did the big revelation about Sam's deceased brother and the effect of his death on her family. Also, as a hopeless romantic, I can't say the romance subplot of the story was resolved in the manner I'd expected. But there is something to be said for a young woman who doesn't need a man to feel validated, and who has carefully laid plans that she's not going to allow to become derailed just because she falls in love.
Having never attended a military academy, I can't vouch for how realistic the story is, but it certainly seemed plausible to me. Sam is a great character, one truly deserving of the name "heroine," and I'd like to see more like her in YA. Overall, Rites of Passage is a good read, an eye-opening glimpse into the life of military academy cadets and a great girl-power tribute, but it could have been even better.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
**Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.