A review of Kristin Hannah’s new book The Women

January 15, 2024

An image of a teacup with an open book beside it. To the left there is text that reads: Book Review: The Women by Kristin Hannah.

Pub date: February 6, 2024

Version: Audiobook, Macmillan Audio via NetGalley

One sentence summary: The Women follows Frances ‘Frankie’ McGrath as she defies her conservative upbringing and enlists as a nurse in the Vietnam war, despite the objections of her family and the greater country she chose to serve.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Affiliate Purchase Link: The Women: A Novel

Side note

If you’re looking for a plot summary you won’t find it here. I find it mildly irritating when Goodreads reviews go over the plot in detail. Just tell me what you liked and didn’t like about the book already, please. That being said, if you need more than my one-sentence summary up top, you can find many more via other Goodreads reviewers here! I thought @Rachel Hanes’ summary was particularly well done. In my reviews, you’ll always hear more about the writing and story telling itself.

The actual review

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for days after I finished it. In the past, I haven’t read much historical fiction. BUT THEN I read/listened to The Four Winds (also by Kristin Hannah), which is set during The Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and I was riveted.

So going into The Women, I was already a new but tentative fan of Hannah’s work, but this one exceeded my expectations. I have my own personal connection to Vietnam and Southeast Asia, so that kind of positive association definitely played a role in my enjoyment. Familiarity and proximity are what make news and all that. But it was also the fact that this was set over 60 years ago, and still felt so deeply relevant in today’s political climate. Women needing to fight to be seen and heard all over again.

The Women was a sweeping, beautiful, compelling story that brought up every emotion you could ever want to experience as a reader.”

-Emma, from the review you’re currently reading

Pacing

Hannah (or perhaps her editors) have plotting down to a near science. The pacing was almost on the verge of a being a thriller, and yet it never felt overly rushed. All the major plot points were spread out and built on one another to a natural crescendo. Though the ‘right’ amount of detail in a book is entirely subjective, Hannah’s ability to hit a balance is noteworthy.

Descriptions

The reader is provided with enough info to ground them in the scene, without bogging them down in flowery descriptions. So often with historical fiction, we get endless (and I mean endless) information; descriptions of clothing, ancient processes or even grocery store prices. Maybe it was the fact that a lot of this book took place in a base camp during the Vietnam war, so the clothing and food weren’t exactly something to write home about. At only 426 pages, I found the whole thing much more accessible than other titles in the same genre. The first book in the Outlander series is over 1000 pages, and The Pillars of the Earth is over 1500.

I was surprised when the book took a turn at the halfway mark and Frankie returned home from Vietnam, but it turned out to be a pleasant one. It wouldn’t have been a book about war, if we didn’t have to read about the aftermath. The reception of the troops when back on home soil was something I hadn’t ever thought about.

Themes

I was hoping that the book would find a way to touch on the major issue we still see today with vets being at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness. And though Hannah started to veer in that direction we never get full recognition of that fact. Though I suppose it wouldn’t have made any sense for an affluent character like Frankie to actually experience those realities.

As Hannah states in her acknowledgements, this is one of those books that was in the making for decades, and it shows. She found a way to make this story both relevant and necessary in a modern world. And she did it in a way that was somehow new and nostalgic at the same time. Overall, The Women was a sweeping, beautiful, compelling story that brought up every emotion you could ever want to experience as a reader. It was impeccably well researched and evocative from beginning to end.

Also, I only want to listen to books narrated by Julia Whelan from now until forever, thank you.

Opposing reflections:

Another thing I like to do after finishing a book is to look at the reviews that are the exact opposite of mine. So if I gave it 1 star, I’ll look at the 5s and vice versa. I usually do this for no other reason than to entertain myself, but I thought it might be an interesting way to spark some conversation, to see if there’s anything in the 1 star review that I also agree with. We aren’t trying to change minds here, just gathering info and welcoming in opposing ideas.

A one ☆ review

For this book I’m looking at the one and only 1 star review thus far, written by @Lisa of Troy. The book doesn’t publish until February 6, so there will inevitably be more after that.

I found Lisa’s first point really interesting. She mentions that, “This book had no plot—it is based on one character. The problem is….Frankie isn’t likeable. She is an entitled, spoiled rich girl. She has everything handed to her, and her reason for going to war was to be on the hero’s wall and not wanting to work her way up at the hospital.”

I’m actually a big fan of unlikable characters, Gillian Flynn is a master of them, but the difference here is that we were supposed to like Frankie. If the reader is meant to cheer on the MC, but can’t find a way to get behind them, the whole thing is going to drag. Even though I didn’t particularly care for Frankie, I was still drawn in to the story because of the setting and my own lack of knowledge about the Vietnam war.

Final thoughts

It’s interesting with books, because you never know for sure what will cause you to connect with the plot, setting or a protagonist. But it usually comes down to either relatability or total alienation; you can either see yourself in a character, or setting or place, or you feel like you have nothing in common with any of it. Take from that what you will!

Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan Audio and Kristin Hannah for the audio ARC of The Women.

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