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February 29, 2024

The Women by Kristin Hannah ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction novel The Women by Kristin Hannah
February 2024; St. Martin's; 978-1250178633
audio, ebook, print (480 pages); historical fiction

There has been a lot of buzz about The Women this month and it is well-deserved. I've only read one other book by Hannah: The Four Winds which is about the 1930s Dust Bowl.

This book is about a different era. I don't know a lot about the Vietnam War, though after watching Ken Burns's documentary on it I know a little more about it. Knowing how much research Hannah puts into her novels, I knew that The Women would increase my knowledge of the time period. 

I grew up watching M*A*S*H (mostly in reruns) so the fact that this book features an Army Nurse was another big draw.

I loved Frankie from the start. She's coming of age during a very tumult time in American history. She's living between the life that she has been "trained" for - find a husband, have kids, attend luncheons at the country club, and fundraise for various causes - and the life that is just now becoming a possibility for women - an education, a career, deciding her own destiny. She wants the husband and wife but she also wants more - to make a difference in the world. 

There were definitely some eye-opening moments during the novel. I have friends who are nurses and a big part of their degree was clinical training so it was interesting that Frankie got her RN but had no clinical training. Another interesting bit was the difference in training that Frankie would get if she had joined the Navy or the Air Force instead of the Army. The Army shipped nurses over to Vietnam with 6 weeks of basic training whereas the other branches required a year of state-side training. Underprepared is an understatement. She basically knew how to roll bandages and empty bed pans and she is dropped into an Evac hospital where men are missing limbs and there are only a handful of medical personnel. Talk about trial by fire. 

The novel doesn't just tell of Frankie's time in-country but continues after she finishes two tours and returns home. When she left, the country was still supportive of the troops but by the time she returns, the tide had changed. 

My heart was breaking knowing that so many men and women had gone through the same things as Frankie. I was also angry, particularly for the women who had served. I read a lot of WWII fiction and know that it took a while for women who served during that war to be recognized. But what really got me in The Women was learning how many of the men who served in-country denied that women were there too. I sort of understood civilians thinking that (because the government was covering up a lot of things about the war), but Frankie interacted with a lot of soldiers during her two years. She might not have held a gun, but with all the bombing the hospitals underwent I think you could say she was in combat.

There was a predictable plot thread that I didn't care much for. I saw how it was going to play out and while it probably did happen to people during that time, I thought it was a bit of unnecessary drama and heartache for Frankie.

Overall, this is a great novel, one I didn't want to put down. If you haven't read it yet, you need to put it at the top of your reading pile and read it now.

Buy The Women at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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