In Kelly’s debut novel, four young women bond in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 2001, Allyn Kend, who works at a Starbucks in Manhattan, enlists in the Marines. Her fiancé, Eliot Michaels, is already a lance corporal, and she wonders in what ways the corps will change her. At the Parris Island training installation in South Carolina, she meets fellow recruits, including wealthy Forsythia “Syth” Sangiorgio; Korean-American YeonBi “Bibi” Shim; and devoted Christian Jessica “Jezi” Kellerman. These new recruits, known as “turkey gobblers,” endure the break-’em-down, build-’em-up rigors of boot camp, determined to join the few and the proud. They must prove themselves physically and mentally fit as they gain expertise in rescue and rifles, survive on half-rations and learn to stand up for each other. After the Twin Towers fall on September 11, the significance of their commitment to military service deepens. Brusque superiors abound; one needles Allyn for her masculine-sounding name: “[A]re you really a boy sneaking in here to cuddle up with the ladies?” In brief, personal moments, the women reflect upon their love lives; Allyn is on track to wed Eliot but can’t forget her passion for the married Hector Archuleta. The novel pairs solid characterization with the authentic feel of military life, providing an inside look at daily rituals, military protocol and fledgling friendships among the Marines. Especially touching is the story of Lance Cpl. Jezi inspiring the privileged Cpl. Gabriel Lassiter to do the right thing. The dialogue is often fine, but the prose can be awkward: “Allyn’s wedding cake, I was determined, would crown her portfolio ready for the bigger and better.” Initially, the tale is undermined by its jumpy structure (providing, for example, two different characters’ points of view of the same conversation in separate sections), and it can be repetitive and confusing. The many-layered plot also touches on sex trafficking, pregnancy both in and out of wedlock, family dramas back home, moral dilemmas and suicide. However, the story’s focus strengthens toward the end.
An often well-told, if occasionally puzzling, tale of a Semper Fi sisterhood.