Review: Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Women’ Tells a Story You’ve Never Heard Before


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Source: @bookswithbuzzi
Source: @bookswithbuzzi

Chances are you have heard of Kristin Hannah. You have grown and grieved with her in Firefly Lane. You have survived Alaska with her in The Great Alone. You have traveled across the country during the Great Depression with her in The Four Winds. You have lived in German-occupied, war-torn France with her in The Nightingale.

And now, it is time to experience the Vietnam War with her in The Women. Whether this is your second Kristin Hannah book or your tenth, whether you are a Vietnam War buff or know very little about the time, Kristin Hannah’s latest historical fiction is a must-read. Here’s why:

Kristin Hannah
The Women

Women can be heroes. When 20-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.

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It tells an often untold story

When we think of the Vietnam War, we think of the men. We think of the men who were not trained for guerilla warfare. We think of the men who were forced to serve in a war they might not have believed in. We think of the men who lost their lives to the cause. But there were women who served in the Vietnam War, too, and that’s what The Women is all about.

The Women follows Frankie McGrath, a young woman from a wealthy family in Southern California. Seeing her father’s worship of her Navy brother and ancestors, Frankie decides to join the Army Nurse Corps. But when she arrives in Vietnam, she quickly realizes that she isn’t at all prepared for what she signed up for. Through the help of two fellow nurses who become her friends and doctors who see her willingness to learn, Frankie improves her nursing skills. She joins a surgical unit and is sent to the Seventy-First Evac in Pleiku, deep in the jungle, where there is heavy fighting.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie. When she returns home, she is met with parents who want to know nothing about her time in Vietnam, hostile war protestors who spit on her for her involvement, and fellow veterans who refuse to believe she was ever in Vietnam at all.

It shares multiple perspectives

Although Frankie is the only narrator in The Women, Kristin Hannah shares different perspectives on the Vietnam War through the people in Frankie’s life. We see this the most from Frankie’s friend, Barb, a Black woman from Georgia who serves with her. Whereas Frankie returns from war to a town where everyone has managed to evade the draft, Barb returns to a town where everyone has served. This dynamic leads to Barb finding her next steps in activism and becoming involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Later in the novel, we also see women dedicated to the cause of returning prisoners of war to the United States.

…if it weren’t for the 11,000 women who served in Vietnam, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And if we don’t continue to fight, we’ll never get where we are meant to go.

It includes complicated family dynamics

One of the most powerful parts of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel is the main character’s relationship with her father. When we first meet Frankie, we learn of her father’s hero wall, a wall in his study with photographs and memorabilia from his ancestors. Men are added to the wall for all kinds of accomplishments, but women are only added to the wall when they marry. Frankie dreams of being added to the wall in the way her brother was—as a war hero—but after she serves, that isn’t how her father sees her at all. Frankie’s desire to be accepted by her father continues to inform the decisions she makes after her time in Vietnam.

It still has elements of everyone’s favorite genre

If you’re in the mood for some romantic drama, then look no further. Because The Women absolutely has it. Frankie has not one, not two, but four romantic interests throughout the course of the novel. During Frankie’s time in Vietnam, her crushes and relationships help her survive the hardships she is confronted with, providing understanding and escape. And upon her return, her relationships—both good and bad—help her discover the person she is meant to be.

It inspires women to keep fighting

Thankfully, women’s rights have come a long way since the 1970s. But (and this is the understatement of the year) we still confront barriers every day of our lives. The journeys that Frankie and her friends go on in The Women remind us just how important breaking down those barriers is. Because if it weren’t for the 11,000 women who served in Vietnam, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And if we don’t continue to fight, we’ll never get where we are meant to go.