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Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War

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From an award-winning, "meticulously observant" (The New Yorker), and "masterful" (Booklist) writer comes a groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families.America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter From an award-winning, "meticulously observant" (The New Yorker), and "masterful" (Booklist) writer comes a groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families.America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is incontestable is that a sizable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it's safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, embedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home, and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their interaction and also what happens when they are separated. We see their families, their lovers, their spouses, their children. We see them work extremely hard, deal with the attentions of men on base and in war zones, and struggle to stay connected to their families back home. We see some of them drink too much, have illicit affairs, and react to the deaths of fellow soldiers. And we see what happens to one of them when the truck she is driving hits an explosive in the road, blowing it up. She survives, but her life may never be the same again.Deeply reported, beautifully written, and powerfully moving, Soldier Girls is truly groundbreaking.


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From an award-winning, "meticulously observant" (The New Yorker), and "masterful" (Booklist) writer comes a groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families.America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter From an award-winning, "meticulously observant" (The New Yorker), and "masterful" (Booklist) writer comes a groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families.America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is incontestable is that a sizable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it's safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, embedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home, and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their interaction and also what happens when they are separated. We see their families, their lovers, their spouses, their children. We see them work extremely hard, deal with the attentions of men on base and in war zones, and struggle to stay connected to their families back home. We see some of them drink too much, have illicit affairs, and react to the deaths of fellow soldiers. And we see what happens to one of them when the truck she is driving hits an explosive in the road, blowing it up. She survives, but her life may never be the same again.Deeply reported, beautifully written, and powerfully moving, Soldier Girls is truly groundbreaking.

30 review for Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Subtitled “The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War”, this detailed account of three women who joined the National Guard in their home state of Illinois, never expecting to have to go to war, and who ended up being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 is both eye-opening and thought-provoking. It follows the experiences of a young college student, a single mother and a grandmother who all chose to enlist for different reasons, the main one being the incentive of the financial rewards Subtitled “The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War”, this detailed account of three women who joined the National Guard in their home state of Illinois, never expecting to have to go to war, and who ended up being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 is both eye-opening and thought-provoking. It follows the experiences of a young college student, a single mother and a grandmother who all chose to enlist for different reasons, the main one being the incentive of the financial rewards available to them. The author follows the women, who became friends, for 12 years, and examines not only the experience of being in the military at home and abroad, but the effect of military life on the women themselves and their families. Based on lengthy interviews and personal interaction between the author and the women, who answered her many questions openly and honestly, plus personal correspondence, diaries, photos, military and medical records and therapists’ notes, there is no doubt this is a meticulously and painstakingly researched study, but one which unfortunately still fails to engage. For a start it is far too detailed. The reader simply doesn’t need to know what one of them ordered at the restaurant on a particular night, or what films another watched on her laptop one evening. This concentration on the minutiae of daily life, although valuable in giving a complete picture of that life, still becomes tedious after a while. Then the author admits to reconstructing conversations, but there is no need for this novelistic approach. This is a book about hard fact; we don’t need made-up conversations. Another drawback is that the author never accompanied the women on their deployment and yet recounts the experiences as though she were there. All is imagined; although no doubt based closely on what she was told, this use of imagined events necessarily detracts from the authenticity of the book. It’s certainly not a bad book in itself. Indeed, it is a valuable insight into why poor, working class Americans are so drawn to the military, and it’s a vivid portrayal of how women fare in a male-dominated environment. But the style is far too gossipy and banal, and I felt that the author was simply not up to her subject matter. Such a book is valuable and needed to be written, and I’d rather have this one than none at all. But for me the style was off-putting and irritating, and although I learnt a great deal, I can’t say that I enjoyed it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    I really enjoyed this book. I read it for a book club and I really didn't think it would be my kind of book. I am a cozy mystery or romance kind of girl. It really surprised me because it was a book about war but more the emotional toll it takes on the soldiers. I definitely recommend this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    I am usually good for half a dozen books at a time, but I have to admit that this one story has dominated my reading hours for the past week or so. I had so many preconceptions (and yes, stereotypes) that I didn't even realize I'd developed until I read about these brave souls who have gone to Afghanistan and in some cases, Iraq. What kind of woman leaves the home she knows and signs up for the National Guard? Sometimes (often!) it is someone who needs money quick. Sometimes it's a woman who is I am usually good for half a dozen books at a time, but I have to admit that this one story has dominated my reading hours for the past week or so. I had so many preconceptions (and yes, stereotypes) that I didn't even realize I'd developed until I read about these brave souls who have gone to Afghanistan and in some cases, Iraq. What kind of woman leaves the home she knows and signs up for the National Guard? Sometimes (often!) it is someone who needs money quick. Sometimes it's a woman who is desperate to get out of her current living situation. And once in awhile, it is something done, at first, when one is dead drunk and out of control; the Guard will fix that quickly! I've been a Marxist my whole adult life, and I have no athletic talent or inclination whatsoever. If I loved this story--and I did--then almost everyone will. My past stupefaction with people who signed up for the military and then were somehow surprised when they were sent to go to war is gone. I get it now. And I understand completely what alienation and culture shock awaits someone who has lived under a completely regimented structure in a Third World nation for a year or more, and then comes home to blaring advertisements for things nobody needs and the petty-sounding complaints of those who have always had it soft. I get it, because I read this book. You should, too.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michel

    Like the soldiers portrayed in this book I wanted to go home before this book was finished. I think this gives a fairly good exploration of everyday modern soldiers' lives and viewpoints, but I would like to read a book that enlightens me or gives me extraordinary information. I don't know that this book is successful in doing so.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chinook

    I listened to the audiobook and I hated the narrator. So I tried putting it at 1.25 speed - it made it sound like Siri was reading to me. The content, however, was interesting. There were bits of each of the three women's stories that reminded me of the stories of people I know. Joining because working multiple jobs wasn't making ends meet. Chaotic living situations. Too much booze. PTSD. Deployments. I found it interesting that at least some of the feelings of readjustment, I had also I listened to the audiobook and I hated the narrator. So I tried putting it at 1.25 speed - it made it sound like Siri was reading to me. The content, however, was interesting. There were bits of each of the three women's stories that reminded me of the stories of people I know. Joining because working multiple jobs wasn't making ends meet. Chaotic living situations. Too much booze. PTSD. Deployments. I found it interesting that at least some of the feelings of readjustment, I had also experienced, to a lesser degree. The supermarket scenes - I also stood, overwhelmed, in one the first several times I returned from living overseas.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily Kraynak

    Thorpe is a beautiful storyteller, and thanks to countless interviews and access to emails, diaries and therapist notes, she details the lives of the same three women over the course of over 12 years and two wars. The women had each signed up for the National Guard pre-9/11, presumably without the intention of deploying once (or in two of the cases, twice) to combat zones. The impact of deployments on these women and their families was significant and in nearly every instance detrimental. It was Thorpe is a beautiful storyteller, and thanks to countless interviews and access to emails, diaries and therapist notes, she details the lives of the same three women over the course of over 12 years and two wars. The women had each signed up for the National Guard pre-9/11, presumably without the intention of deploying once (or in two of the cases, twice) to combat zones. The impact of deployments on these women and their families was significant and in nearly every instance detrimental. It was hard to read about these women transitioning back to the real world - when returning to the States and to real life proves to be more stressful and complicated than a combat deployment, we are not doing enough as a country to support and help veterans transition. The book is non-fiction, but Thorpe writes so well that it doesn't read like non-fiction at all. Highly recommend.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This book is a fantastic window into the real-life experiences of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq with the Indiana National Guard. I would definitely recommend it to those interested in seeing behind the headlines to what soldiers and their lives (much of this book is applicable not only to women, though they are the protagonists) are like. Michelle Fischer joined the National Guard at age 19, just a few months before 9/11, in order to pay for college. Facing a difficult financial This book is a fantastic window into the real-life experiences of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq with the Indiana National Guard. I would definitely recommend it to those interested in seeing behind the headlines to what soldiers and their lives (much of this book is applicable not only to women, though they are the protagonists) are like. Michelle Fischer joined the National Guard at age 19, just a few months before 9/11, in order to pay for college. Facing a difficult financial situation, as the first in her family to attend college and with a chaotic home life, she thought this would be a safe bet, even though she was a pot-smoking Nader voter who definitely didn’t want to deploy. Debbie Helton joined up at 34, and deployed at 51; a hair salon manager and divorced mother who’d grown up in a military family, she wanted to do something that would give more meaning to her life. She became the team mom at home, but wanted more and pushed to deploy with the rest of her unit. Desma Brooks joined in her 20s for reasons that seem unclear even to her. She’d had a difficult life – foster care, a teen pregnancy, an abusive marriage producing two more kids – and was struggling to provide for her children, but always claimed she’d joined the Guard by mistake. While skilled with the military’s technology, she had little patience for authority or interest in deploying and leaving her young kids behind. The book follows these three women, as well as those around them, from 2001 until 2013, through training, deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, and reintegration into American society. It’s a very close look at their lives; some reviewers have claimed it’s too detailed, to which I say, that’s the point! The point is to immerse us in their experiences, show us what their lives are like. Thorpe is a great storyteller, and does a fantastic job of bringing them to life. And it’s very much a warts-and-all look at military life. Unlike prior books I’d read about women in the military, it is neither a rah-rah celebration of women in the military (these women’s deployments took place before they were officially allowed on the battlefield, though they face danger driving trucks, repairing weapons in Kabul and living on a frequently-shelled base), nor is it a call to arms about sexual assault (which is not a focus here). The women are competent at their jobs, but they are not extraordinary soldiers, and many of their experiences aren’t exactly family-friendly. There’s a lot of drinking (much of self-medication), some drugs, and a lot of infidelity (having a “deployment relationship” seems to be the norm among the younger women, regardless of their relationship status at home). Their relationships with families back home are complicated and often leave the soldiers exhausted; Desma uses her leave to take a vacation somewhere else rather than visiting her children and leaving them all over again. If this book has one weakness, it’s that it’s very closely focused on the three protagonists and those around them, without much information about the larger picture of women in the military. That said, while I was at first disappointed that the women seemed so superficially similar (all white women in the Indiana National Guard, and all friends with one another), I ultimately found their experiences and opinions to be quite diverse, and each one brings a lot to the book. I’m impressed that they all opened up as much as they did, even about subjects on which they’re likely to be judged; two of them even use their real names. And the author tells their stories without judgment and without ever inserting herself into the tale. In sum, I found this to be a great book, telling compelling real-life stories that opened my eyes to a lot about military life that I hadn’t previously known. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in walking in female soldiers’ shoes for awhile.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark Stevens

    War is hell. It’s also real people transforming themselves—sometimes briefly, sometimes for decades—into soldiers. It’s also equipment, food, supplies, housing, bureaucracy, codes, lingo, power. It’s killing. War is boredom. War requires that families separate and relationships go on hold—for long stretches of time. War requires induction. The military is its own universe, as a thousand books and movies have made clear. In highly-detailed portraits of three women shipped off to war, Soldier Girls War is hell. It’s also real people transforming themselves—sometimes briefly, sometimes for decades—into soldiers. It’s also equipment, food, supplies, housing, bureaucracy, codes, lingo, power. It’s killing. War is boredom. War requires that families separate and relationships go on hold—for long stretches of time. War requires induction. The military is its own universe, as a thousand books and movies have made clear. In highly-detailed portraits of three women shipped off to war, Soldier Girls lets us walk in the boots of Michelle Fischer, Debbie Helton and Desma Brooks as they each strike a bargain with the world—and the military—for unique, personal reasons. Soldier Girls transforms the generic term “soldier” into highly specific human beings with hopes, dreams, struggles and reasons to join up. Thorpe spent four years interviewing these women, covering the details and getting them right. The specifics give Soldier Girls its weight, its three-dimensional insights. Generalities are devoured by the razor teeth of particulars. “Michelle had saved up $1,300 for an apartment in Bloomington. Instead, she ordered kegs of Killian’s Irish Red and threw a party, took friends out to dinner, bought her mother a new bed. She also took out a large life insurance policy and wrote a will leaving everything to her mother.” “In her (Debbie’s) civilian life, she managed a beauty salon inside a department store at one end of a shopping mall. The department store was called L.S. Ayres. Debbie lived in Bloomington, Indiana, where she had grown up and was raising her daughters . . . On the morning of September 11, 2001, Debbie left her house around nine, as the drive to Indy took roughly an hour. At about 9:15 a.m. she was heading northeast on Highway 37 in the gold 1990 Cavalier she had bought used after she had enlisted in the Guard, and could finally afford a vehicle, listening to the Bob & Tom Show. A person had to have a sick sense of humor to enjoy the syndicated comedy show, but it was Debbie’s main source of news.” “Desma was extraordinarily bright, and before she finished elementary school, she devoured The Secret Garden and Little Women. Later she raced through Oliver Twist and The Raven. The books spirited her away from her surroundings and shielded her from her mother’s rage.” Thorpe shows us the politics—or lack thereof. She let us in on their relationships, bank accounts, extended families, and decisions about how each of these three women react to offers and temptations of all kind. We see them re-shape themselves, mentally and physically. War requires transformation. We see them learn new skills, such as learning to repair assault rifles. Thorpe shows us their willingness to toe the line or buck the system. We see the women as they manage sleep, cope with dread and look for love and physical intimacy. We see them manage family business by remote control—from thousands of miles away—via email and telephone. We learn their preferences in music, food and alcohol. We see them feud and we see them figure out ways to make do. And, even though they mostly are assigned to support roles, one hair-raising moment brings one of these women extremely close to losing her life. If going to war is brutal, the return trip might be worse. And here is where the accumulated minutia of the opening chapters pays off as the women return to the old landscapes and familiar haunts and try to regain their footing in the world. About the role of women in the military, Thorpe retains her role as reporter and never shifts to dispenser of opinion. Can they handle the work? Can the military culture handle the sexual complications? Thorpe never loses patience. The narrative doesn’t rush to closure. Awkward moments are allowed to be just that. Returning requires recalibration. War’s toll is in the dead and wounded. It’s also in the altered psyches of those who appear whole upon return. War builds character? Sure. And if so, Helen Thorpe’s powerful Soldier Girls shows that women—at least these three—are up to the task.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    In the second to last page of this book, Thorpe writes: "Earlier that year Obama's secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, had announced that the military was going to lift its ban on women serving in combat positions. The three women had divided in their response to the news. Debbie felt a pang of regret, for she had missed her chance -- secretly , she had always wanted to be a sniper. Michelle opposed the change. "Women have more important things to do," she said. "They're mothers. Society should In the second to last page of this book, Thorpe writes: "Earlier that year Obama's secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, had announced that the military was going to lift its ban on women serving in combat positions. The three women had divided in their response to the news. Debbie felt a pang of regret, for she had missed her chance -- secretly , she had always wanted to be a sniper. Michelle opposed the change. "Women have more important things to do," she said. "They're mothers. Society should prioritize mothers over soldiers." Desma shrugged at the announcement. "Women are already in combat, " she said. As far as she was concerned this was making official something that was already a reality. Maybe now, she thought, they will train women right." And that sums up very well the attitudes of three very different women who enlist in the Indiana National Guard for very different reasons just before 9/11, never expecting to be deployed overseas, and then find themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq. I've read many books about men in wars but this is the first book I've read about modern day female soldiers and the challenges they face both at home and in deployment with unsparing detail. I haven't enjoyed and learned more from a book in a really long time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This book almost made me weep. Military lives are NOT glamorous. These women, who chose a career in the military, did so with a hopeful wish in their heart.....a hope for a better life and a better education. But often times, this dream of a better life ends up as a nightmare of the worst kind. I'm grateful for the sacrifices made. It isn't a cake walk. It wasn't all bad, but coping skills were necessary for these women to get through the trauma, but often times crutches in the form of This book almost made me weep. Military lives are NOT glamorous. These women, who chose a career in the military, did so with a hopeful wish in their heart.....a hope for a better life and a better education. But often times, this dream of a better life ends up as a nightmare of the worst kind. I'm grateful for the sacrifices made. It isn't a cake walk. It wasn't all bad, but coping skills were necessary for these women to get through the trauma, but often times crutches in the form of drug/alcohol abuse and infidelity were the norm.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Overly detailed and marred by some clunky writing, but still a valuable recounting of the experiences of three women members of the Indiana National Guard who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the years following 9/11.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Beautifully researched and written. The stories of these three women are intertwined in a way that makes it very difficult to put the book down. I learned so much while reading this book and it sparked the desire to continue learning more.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Three women in Indiana, before September 11, 2001, joined the Indiana National Guard. They joined for different reasons, one for the college tuition she could never hope to earn otherwise, one on a dare, one to carry on the tradition of military in her family. As National Guard members, they expected their duties would be to help out in times of local disaster or in the unlikely event that the United States was being invaded. Little did they know. Author Helen Thorpe follows the three women from Three women in Indiana, before September 11, 2001, joined the Indiana National Guard. They joined for different reasons, one for the college tuition she could never hope to earn otherwise, one on a dare, one to carry on the tradition of military in her family. As National Guard members, they expected their duties would be to help out in times of local disaster or in the unlikely event that the United States was being invaded. Little did they know. Author Helen Thorpe follows the three women from before they join to their decision to enlist, their training, and their deployment to Afghanistan, their difficult return to the States, the rebuilding of their lives, further deployments, and aftermath. Soldier Girls turns out to be not so much a story of the different experiences that men and women soldiers have, but a story of three soldiers who happen to be women. There's some harassment and some skepticism about whether they are strong enough, physically and emotionally, for duty in a war zone, but with one glaring exception, their experiences seem to be not much different than that of thousands of other soldiers who have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last thirteen years. They make it through their first tours in one piece, but they are all surprised to find how difficult returning to normal life is. Their families and friends are sympathetic but don't really understand. Only someone who was there can understand. Thorpe takes her time telling their stories, and although I'm normally an impatient reader who skips through slow parts, I didn't skip a word of Soldier Girls. The pace is necessary. You get to know the women and their routines and lives, so that when they are just beginning to rebuild their lives after the return from Afghanistan, the jolt of learning that they are going to be sent to Iraq is devastating. I felt angry and a sense of desperation for them, after what they had been through, and how they had slowly put their lives back together. My feelings must have been a tiny fraction of the anger and despair they, and every soldier who's sent back for a second, third, fourth tour, felt. This book is going to be on my mind for some time, I think.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bucket

    As the subtitle says, this is about three women's experiences as members of the Indiana National Guard at home and at war from 2001 until about 2013. Though they are all part of the same division (at least to start) and become lifelong friends, the three are vastly different people and have vastly different experiences. Michelle is 18 when she joins the Guard to cover her college tuition; Desma is a single parent of three and in her 20s; Debbie joins in her late 30s when her daughter is As the subtitle says, this is about three women's experiences as members of the Indiana National Guard at home and at war from 2001 until about 2013. Though they are all part of the same division (at least to start) and become lifelong friends, the three are vastly different people and have vastly different experiences. Michelle is 18 when she joins the Guard to cover her college tuition; Desma is a single parent of three and in her 20s; Debbie joins in her late 30s when her daughter is basically grown and is around 50 during the bulk of the book. All three are deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-5. All three struggle to adjust back to civilian life when they return and also struggle to lesser or greater extent with being female in the military. Michelle does not re-enlist when her commitment ends, but Desma and Debbie do and they are both deployed to Iraq in 2008. Both return with even more difficulties, particularly Desma who suffers a traumatic brain injury when a bomb explodes under the armored truck she's driving. Thorpe is an excellent researcher and dove very deeply into the lives and experiences of the three women she writes about. She also refrains from judging her subjects at all times, and refrains from biased political commentary almost all the time (she does discuss the concept of "economic draft" and it seemed pretty clear overall that she is on the left side of the political spectrum). My knowledge of what it's like to be in the army (particularly as a woman) has been dramatically deepened by this book, and I have an understanding now of both the motivation to join up and the impact of the experience of being deployed that I didn't before, and a lot of empathy. Overall, this was thorough and fascinating from cover to cover - a job well done by Thorpe. Themes: women, military, war, bio, politics

  15. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    Reading this book from total ignorance of the armed services, I was shocked by the hardships the women experienced, and I wondered after reading it how anyone deployed as these three women were could ever have a normal, decent life afterwards. It may be my naivete, but I was also dismayed by the pervasive abuse of alcohol that underlay much of their lives when they were not actively engaged in their work. The book is a chronicle not only of the classism of a 'volunteer army,' but of the hideous Reading this book from total ignorance of the armed services, I was shocked by the hardships the women experienced, and I wondered after reading it how anyone deployed as these three women were could ever have a normal, decent life afterwards. It may be my naivete, but I was also dismayed by the pervasive abuse of alcohol that underlay much of their lives when they were not actively engaged in their work. The book is a chronicle not only of the classism of a 'volunteer army,' but of the hideous personal and civic expense and depredation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its information about the treatment of women in the military gives me even more admiration for the three whose lives it chronicles. They were poor and they were drunk, but they were loyal and loving and brave as hell. There's a sidebar about the life of an eloquent and decent Afghan translator whose service for the US all but destroys his life. Nice.

  16. 5 out of 5

    MadTurtle

    The book was okay. Not my favorite. I sort of wanted it to be more adventurous and concentrated on their struggles in war and life. The actual people included in the book I hated. They had been in the Army and knew how hard it was on their loved ones but yet two of them took advantage of the family not knowing what they do there and cheated on their significant other back home. I was outraged by that. They are supposed to be fighting for our country not dating and cheating. It's not all fun and The book was okay. Not my favorite. I sort of wanted it to be more adventurous and concentrated on their struggles in war and life. The actual people included in the book I hated. They had been in the Army and knew how hard it was on their loved ones but yet two of them took advantage of the family not knowing what they do there and cheated on their significant other back home. I was outraged by that. They are supposed to be fighting for our country not dating and cheating. It's not all fun and games. Yet the others insight on their lives back at home I liked. Showed the struggles of all the armies soldiers here and at home. Sort of interesting book. Don't suggest. 3 star rating.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    Not what I expected. Mostly women getting drunk and having affairs.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jody Valentino

    I liked it at first but after about page 75, it bored me. Never finished it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    This was more eye-opening than I expected. It normally wouldn't have ended up on my To-Read shelf, but I was so impressed by The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom that I wanted to check out more of the author's work. While the work focuses on the before, during, and after wartime experiences of three women who had signed up with the National Guard and found themselves in deployment anyway, I actually learned a lot about the difficulties of ALL soldiers, This was more eye-opening than I expected. It normally wouldn't have ended up on my To-Read shelf, but I was so impressed by The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom that I wanted to check out more of the author's work. While the work focuses on the before, during, and after wartime experiences of three women who had signed up with the National Guard and found themselves in deployment anyway, I actually learned a lot about the difficulties of ALL soldiers, whether married, single, parents, "old," young, and different educations. They happened to be deployed to the same area of Iraq as my ex-husband, at the same timeframe, and some of their experiences there helps me see (potentially) some of the issues he was dealing with being a civilian after that (although I can't make the direct comparison, since I only knew him post-war). There is truly so little we know about PTSD, and how deployments, with their long separations and intense situations, really affect the psyche and emotions. The brain is such a complicated organ, and we are only just beginning to understand some of its workings, and to recognize types of trauma that we just couldn't comprehend before. Thorpe doesn't offer any solutions to the extremely complicated issues that arise within the country and within individuals in her book; she just lays out the story as described by interviews, journals, medical and psychiatric notes, diaries. There really is no judgment, merely the stating of "how it was" and leaves it up to the reader to make our own interpretations. It's a heavier read in a lot of ways than Newcomers, and I don't know if everyone would enjoy it, but I found it highly informative and thought-provoking. It's worth the read, if you're remotely interested in the topic.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bea Elwood

    I do believe Helen Thorpe may be one of the greatest feminist writers ever (and please do not read feminist in any negative sense because her writing is about women, real women, and that's what makes it such powerful feminist literature). I was on vacation in Hawaii and couldn't put this book down, I want to travel to Indiana and meet these women and tell them thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for you sacrifices. Thank you for your honesty. Such a raw and unflinching account and I do believe Helen Thorpe may be one of the greatest feminist writers ever (and please do not read feminist in any negative sense because her writing is about women, real women, and that's what makes it such powerful feminist literature). I was on vacation in Hawaii and couldn't put this book down, I want to travel to Indiana and meet these women and tell them thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for you sacrifices. Thank you for your honesty. Such a raw and unflinching account and massively important. I can't wait to read her next book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ruell Bean

    A must read for anyone with female family members in the military. Got a little slow in spots but I still kept turning the pages to learn about the next problem or issue.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    First time in years listening to a book rather than reading it. But since my current daily commute is an hour each way and I'm training for a half marathon, if just made sense to try out "reading" a book in a different format. I think this book was a good choice to listen to; it's basically a chronological story of three women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, providing an overview of their lives before enrolling, their actual time serving, and their challenges of re-integrating to First time in years listening to a book rather than reading it. But since my current daily commute is an hour each way and I'm training for a half marathon, if just made sense to try out "reading" a book in a different format. I think this book was a good choice to listen to; it's basically a chronological story of three women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, providing an overview of their lives before enrolling, their actual time serving, and their challenges of re-integrating to civilian life. At first I was disappointed to find out that all three of the women were white and from the same state (Indiana) and of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. But then I realized that Thorpe's purpose for writing the book was not to give the reader a "global" look at a wide range of women serving in the war, but rather to show how these three women, who served together and became friends, could in some way touch on and reflect every American soldier women's experience. And Thorpe researched each of this women's lives in amazing detail. She interviewed their friends and family, got access to diaries, emails and photos, and even referenced therapists notes. The story was quietly powerful for me in that it gave me a much better impression of how the wars progressed in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and how different he two wars were initially. (Americans were apparently welcomed initially in Afghanistan, whereas no one in Iraq wanted the Americans there from the beginning.) The book also opened my eyes to the seemingly obvious fact that not all soldiers are necessarily supportive of the war, or conservative politically. One of the girls in the story, Michelle, only served because she felt like she had run out of options in her small town of Indiana, and figured it was the best way to pay for college. I am guilty of assuming all war veterans supported Bush and conservative agendas. It's true that many of them did at the time, but it's unfair to write them all off as "crazy right-wingers." So, overall, really glad I picked up this book, after seeing a positive blurb review of it in the New Yorker.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I learned a lot from this book and I'm glad I read it, but it was not what I expected it to be. I thought there would be analysis and explanation of how the example soldier women fit into the overall wars and issues pertaining. Instead, the book got off to a slow start in great detail about the individual women, and never strayed from following their lives from their perspective. For example, I expected that there would be a discussion of the 1/3 of women in the military who are sexually I learned a lot from this book and I'm glad I read it, but it was not what I expected it to be. I thought there would be analysis and explanation of how the example soldier women fit into the overall wars and issues pertaining. Instead, the book got off to a slow start in great detail about the individual women, and never strayed from following their lives from their perspective. For example, I expected that there would be a discussion of the 1/3 of women in the military who are sexually assaulted and what is being done or not done to remedy that egregious fact. The statistic was mentioned on one page but there was no analysis, no discussion, no relating the three women's experience to the horrifying sacrifice their female comrades are being forced to make. I learned a lot about how soldiers live in training and in our middle east wars, the struggles they go through personally and with family from being away so long, the severe difficulty readjusting to life in the US after they return, whether or not they were injured mentally or physically. The women who agreed to share their lives intimately are very courageous for being so honest and I am grateful for the in-person view into a world with which I am not familiar. I just wish there had been some work by the author to give us broader information.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    This book is the true story about 3 women from the Indiana National Guard, who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq during the current OIF/OEF wars. The accounts are based on interviews and diary entries from the time of the deployments, which I find brings a unique perspective into their thoughts, feelings, and the ongoings during their deployments. By doing so, you learn what drove these women to enlist in the military in the first place, the challenges they faced with their lives and their This book is the true story about 3 women from the Indiana National Guard, who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq during the current OIF/OEF wars. The accounts are based on interviews and diary entries from the time of the deployments, which I find brings a unique perspective into their thoughts, feelings, and the ongoings during their deployments. By doing so, you learn what drove these women to enlist in the military in the first place, the challenges they faced with their lives and their families during the deployments, and the struggles with returning to civilian life, including adjustment, feeling distant from fellow soldiers, changes within the family structures, and deciding whether or not to remain in the military. As a mental health provider, I thought this book provided me with a new framework from which to understand some of the more subtle challenges that the returning troops face, particularly the aspects of adjustment that are not related to trauma and PTSD.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    This was a great book! A non-fiction book that reads as a novel, completely engaging, thought-provoking, heart-breaking at times, funny at other times, both tear- and anger-inducing. Really lets one get what the military has been through over these past 10+ years. The author interviewed 3 women who had served in the National Guard, one an older career woman, and two who joined right before 9-11, one hoping to pay her way to college and the other for the needed pay. It then takes us through the This was a great book! A non-fiction book that reads as a novel, completely engaging, thought-provoking, heart-breaking at times, funny at other times, both tear- and anger-inducing. Really lets one get what the military has been through over these past 10+ years. The author interviewed 3 women who had served in the National Guard, one an older career woman, and two who joined right before 9-11, one hoping to pay her way to college and the other for the needed pay. It then takes us through the changes in the military around women's roles and the National Guard role, because of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. She interviewed the women, used their journals, interviewed others in their military and non-military lives, researched what was happening in the country during this time. I listened to it on CD, and it was fascinating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Janeene

    A good story of women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq - particularly the struggles they had when coming home. My favorite quote from the book "This was an economic draft - George W Bush offered money to draft the poor population over and over again to fight his fight, and left his own class virtually untouched." what soldier meant by this was how they recruited people - $ as sign on bonus, good $ for people who didn't have jobs or low paying jobs - $ for college ..... wonder how many of them A good story of women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq - particularly the struggles they had when coming home. My favorite quote from the book "This was an economic draft - George W Bush offered money to draft the poor population over and over again to fight his fight, and left his own class virtually untouched." what soldier meant by this was how they recruited people - $ as sign on bonus, good $ for people who didn't have jobs or low paying jobs - $ for college ..... wonder how many of them would now say it was worth it?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lekshmy

    Thought provoking and real life story book. This book depicts the stories of 3 women of different age transforming themselves, their household struggles during deployment , their love life etc... This book made me think about the hardship during war and how female soldiers had to fight for their position in order to feel worth the struggle or effort they undertook. Desma's PSTD was touching and her attitude to fight for survival is salute worthy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Carrell

    This book would have been much better without the author's own liberal political stance dominating the pages. I was so excited for this book and in the end, I really struggled to even finish it. In addition, it was a poorly woven tapestry of sexual exploits and drinking, which might be the experience of these women, but does not epitomize women in the military. This book should be written to empower women and it does the exact opposite in the constant repetition of sex and drinks.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Debby

    Author Helen Thorpe does a masterful job of telling the stories of three female members of the National Guard in Indiana who signed up before 9/11 and never anticipated the National Guard being called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that Helen Thorpe and the three women were in Vail some time in the last 12 months. I wish now that I'd made the effort to attend the event and hear their stories in their own words.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maegan Crews

    I expected to like this book more than I did. I felt like a lot of it did not flow and was hard to read because of that. I wish Helen Thorpe would have told the stories of 3 women who had different stories- it seemed to me like these were 3 very similar stories. Nonetheless, it was an interesting look at what its like to be a woman in service.

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