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Likely Stories - The Women

Welcome to Likely Stories. I’m Paige Connell, and I’m a 9th grade English teacher at Midway High School, and today I want to talk about Kristin Hannah’s latest historical fiction masterpiece, The Women.

"There were no women in Vietnam,” the refrain repeats throughout this book, and by using this jarring inaccuracy, Hannah seeks to tell the untold stories of female combat nurses during the Vietnam War.

We meet Frances “Frankie” McGrath, who lives a charmed, yet aimless, life in the 1960s. Her father’s affinity for soldiers and heroism and her brother’s enlistment for a tour in Vietnam drives her to impetuously sign up as an Army nurse and thrust herself into the heat of battlefield nursing.

Caring for these wounded soldiers, holding hands of young men as they die, deciding which ones are triaged as receiving help and which are left to die on a sawhorse gurney completely changes Frankie’s life. Two of her fellow nurses, Barb and Ethel, become her best friends and lifelines while she is in-country, and while they have a few dalliances with men, it’s their stories we care about most. After all, it’s their relationships which bolster each other through unimaginable difficulty.

The first part of the book deals with Frankie’s tours of duty, but the second part shifts to her inevitable return home. Once she is back in the US, Frankie is met with vitriol, anger, and ignorance—and that’s just within her own family. Suffering from what we now know to be PTSD, Frankie seeks help from many sources, only to be told time and time again that “women weren’t in Vietnam” and then not receive any of the help she desperately needs.

It’s her best friends who once again provide her with support and a literal lifeline as she painstakingly carves out a new life for herself amid political and familial controversy.

What Kristin Hannah does best in her more recent books is feature a strongly-written setting with characters so real they leap off the page. She did this in the wilds of Alaska for The Great Alone, war-torn France in The Nightingale, frosty Leningrad with Winter Garden, and Dust-Bowl era Texas in The Four Winds.

You often wonder as you’re reading The Women if Hannah herself wasn’t a Vietnam war nurse with the level of intricacy in the details she develops. This book is a master class in research and scene- setting. You feel every mortar shell, every air raid siren, every civilian who spits at Frankie.

I could not put this book down—I read the whole thing in 36 hours and felt the gamut of emotions throughout. I wish Frankie’s life didn’t have to be so hard for her because she was really put through the wringer. But this story is literally a testament to the power of women, the strength and resiliency that they have, and the unsung chapter in history that now has an inimitable voice.

Paige Connell has been a Wacoan since 2002 when she attended Baylor University, fell in love with the city, and never left. She works at Midway High School and has been teaching English since 2009. Paige’s passion is reading: she regularly reads 120 books or more each year and loves to share her thoughts on Goodreads and social media. Additionally, Paige co-authored the children’s book Goodnight Waco on behalf of the Junior League of Waco in 2021. When she’s not reading or listening to a book, you can find her nursing a mug of tea, analyzing Taylor Swift lyrics for figurative language elements, or spending time with her family—her husband Chance, her daughter Cara, and her Corgi mutt Remy.