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

by Rachel Baker on August 10, 2014

Here is a really well-written review of Helen Thorpe’s new book Soldier Girls.

Helen Thorpe’s comprehensively researched new book, “Soldier Girls,” follows the lives of three women from enlistment in the Indiana National Guard through deployment and back home again.

Desma Brooks is a single working mother of three whose intelligence and distrust of authority are part of what makes her a natural leader; Debbie Helton is a grandmother and beautician who qualifies as an expert on the rifle range; and Michelle Fischer is a “music-loving, pot-smoking, left-leaning hippie” who repairs weapons and comes from a family scarred by the meth trade. “Soldier Girls” is a breakthrough work that spans 12 years of these women’s lives, beginning just before the attacks on the twin towers. A seasoned journalist and the author of “Just Like Us,” which followed four Mexican girls through high school and into college to show the personal side of American immigration laws, Thorpe interviewed two dozen soldiers before finding Fischer, who introduced her to the others.

Early on, what looks to be a prosaic narrative about ordinary lives — ACT scores, colicky newborns — is undercut by a stomach-turning tension as the three women decide to sign up for the National Guard, thinking there will be little chance they’ll see combat. Instead, Brooks, Helton and Fischer are drawn into lengthy deployments taking them far from their civilian lives and families into a cultish world in which they are viewed as outsiders because they are women.

Enlisted Women

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