Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Harper Teen (9 Sep 2014)
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 realises 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.
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*Caution - may be slight spoiler ahead*
When I read the summary to this, my initial and instant reaction was to imagine the Vampire Academy series - just without he vampire part. I promptly got all excited, ‘cause I l o v e books set in boarding schools or academies, and throw in the military setting (I was set to join the army until at 16 I calmed myself down) and then the fiery attraction to a forbidden male lead? Recipe for amazeballs.
However, first page into the book, I’m already put off. While I understand that our female lead is a strong and resilient character who can’t turn down a dare, I dislike when the characters themselves boast this of themselves. I feel like there are so many more creative ways to get that across about the character, without them needing to claim it themselves. Putting aside my pursued lips at this point, I progressed with the book and to be fair, I didn’t let this bad start cloud my judgement - yet even then, I couldn’t find myself to like the book any more than a mild nod-that-its-okay.
The book showed promise, with the setting of the academy, the military theme and forbidden love, all under a web of an enemy from within - yet I feel like the author didn’t manage to execute the story well.
While our main character, Sam, came across as a very strong, very hard working and determined female (hurrah) I felt like there wasn’t much depth to her - though I kept rooting for her throughout to not buckle under the pressure she felt in the academy, I just didn’t find anything more to her. Maybe that sounds bad coming from me, seeing as Hensley did just provide us with a top notch heroin in a very real life setting, but I couldn’t bring myself to love Sam the way maybe she should be.
In terms of the relationships that Sam forges whilst within the academy, I loved how the boys came to slowly trust her, and see her for the determined and strong individual she is, who didn’t take crap from anyone simply because she’s a girl in an all boys academy. Sam held her own so well - and she earned the respect she deserved. However, I didn't like the way the Kelly-Sam-Drill triangle went down. While I can see Sam establishing a bond with Kelly after joining, friendship and attraction came naturally to them both - yet at the same time, she was attracted to Drill? I just felt despite Sam closing the chapter on Kelly by citing rules and regulations worry, she instantly jumped to Drill - a relationship I didn’t .. “feel”. There was no fire, no real basis for them (again, personal opinion) given they hardly spent time together and when they did manage the brief interactions, it just wasn’t enough for me to go on to see them as a strong couple.
Other loose ends, came in the form of her dead brother, Amos - who I felt needed more depth, the whole reason why he killed himself, though was revealed, didn’t expand enough to give a clear picture and for me, felt like it was just thrown there, as a “here’s the reason” and then left to hang.
The writing was okay, as a debut novel I feel like it was very easy to read, well put together and deserving of praise for taking on such a plot - but again, the execution was lacking in making this the explosive read that it could be.
I don’t mean to list all the negatives, but I just had a hard time liking this as much as I wanted to, given how everyone’s loved it so far - but for me, it didn’t hit the mark and I just wish it did. Nonetheless, I did finish the book, which is always a plus. Congrats on Hensley on her first book and I wish her luck with the next ones.