The Women – Kristin Hannah

The Women by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6, 2024
Genres: Fiction, Historical
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The missing. The forgotten. The brave… The women.
From master storyteller Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Four Winds, comes the story of a turbulent, transformative era in America: the 1960s. The Women is that rarest of novels—at once an intimate portrait of a woman coming of age in a dangerous time and an epic tale of a nation divided by war and broken by politics, of a generation both fueled by dreams and lost on the battlefield.

“Women can be heroes, too.”
When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these unexpected words, it is a revelation. Raised on idyllic Coronado Island and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing, being a good girl. But in 1965 the world is changing, and she suddenly imagines a different choice for her life. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she impulsively joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.
As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is overwhelmed by the chaos and destruction of war, as well as the unexpected trauma of coming home to a changed and politically divided America.
The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on the story of all women who put themselves in harm’s way to help others. Women whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has all too often been forgotten. A novel of searing insight and lyric beauty, The Women is a profoundly emotional, richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose extraordinary idealism and courage under fire define a generation.

When someone tells me they want to start reading historical fiction, I always direct them to two authors: Kate Quinn and Kristin Hannah. For historical fiction, Kristin Hannah is easily one of the most talented authors for this generation. I can always count on her novels to be hard-hitting, beautifully written, and impactful. Her books are powerful and timeless. The Women by Kristin Hannah is a novel that will live in my mind for a long time. It is an enjoyable but also heartbreaking read, one which brings light to a time of American history that has long been in the dark.

Frankie McGrath’s father has a “heroes wall” in his office. Photographs and news clippings of men who have served in the armed forces to protect the United States and all it stands for. She wants to make a difference, too, to earn her father’s favor, so she joins the Army Nurse Corps. Shortly after, she’s in Vietnam, hoping to meet up with her brother who is already in-country. From the moment she steps onto sweltering Vietnam soil, Frankie faces the horrors of war. Home is far, far away. With the help of her friends, she fights through each day to keep her boys alive.

But The Women by Kristin Hannah does not end in Vietnam. She returns to a United States filled with citizens who hate the Vietnam War and the troops that fought in it. The novel is deep. It features PTSD, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Additionally, Hannah shines a spotlight on how veterans—nurses included—could not get help. How so many believed there were no women in Vietnam. How the POWs returned with applause and parades while others spat upon and swore at veterans coming home.

I have been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. On multiple occasions. It is a dark, granite wall with names carved into it. When you stare at the surface, your own face reflects at you. Over 58,000 names cover the stone. Even at night, you can see your face, eerie in the glow from the pavement below. From above, the wall looks like an unhealed scar, forever imprinted into the ground.  Nearby stands the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which depicts three nurses cradling and treating a wounded soldier.

While reading The Women by Kristin Hannah, the memorials filled my mind’s eye. Because this novel hurts. For me, “happiness” is no requirement for a good novel.  The Women broke my heart because of its realism. Frankie’s story is not inimitable. So many hurt—in the past and now—just as she did. So many go unrecognized. So many need help but do not access it, for whatever reason. And so many come home to sneers instead of thanks. To empty tarmacs instead of smiling and hopeful faces.

These nurses are no longer missing or forgotten. They are the women, and we owe them our sincerest thanks. The Women by Kristin Hannah is a novel I will read repeatedly—not only because of her astonishing storytelling but also to remind me of all I must be grateful for.