Editorial note: I received a copy of The Women in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
The Women by Kristin Hannah is an extraordinary novel about a woman’s experience working as a nurse during the Vietnam War. It’s heart wrenching, impactful, moving and fantastic.
I’m a huge fan of Kristin Hannah’s novels. Some of my favorites include The Nightingale, The Four Winds and Comfort and Joy. She has such a way of words and creating a vivid sense of place. Her novels completely transform me to wherever it is set.
And I think The Women might actually be her best work yet. From page one, I was completely engrossed in this riveting story about a young woman’s experience serving in the Vietnam War and then dealing with the aftermath. I adored the main character Frankie and I felt for her so much.
I was sad to finish it because I wanted the experience of reading it for the first time again. The Women is an ideal book club pick and I’ll be recommending this book all year and for years to come.
What’s the Story About
We meet Frankie, a shy and privileged 20-year-old from idyllic Coronado Island, San Diego. She’s always considered herself a good girl and was raised to do the right thing. However, she starts to wonder if there’s something more for her. And when one of her brother’s friends mentions to her, “women can be heroes,” it changes everything for Frankie.
When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path. Nothing can prepare Frankie for what awaits in Vietnam, working as a nurse in a chaotic and destructive environment. She grows up quick as she develops her nursing skills and makes lifelong friendships. There’s also a potential romance or two, however, that’s quite complicated as well.
Once Frankie returns home, she quickly realizes there’s no hero’s welcome. And thus begins another hard journey.
There’s absolutely so much to unravel and discuss with this novel. Be sure to read Kristin Hannah’s author note as well as her acknowledgments. She first wanted to write a novel about Vietnam back in the ’90s but she didn’t think she was up to the task at that time. It’s such a big topic and there’s so many layers to it. And with such a complicated time in our history, there are still so many different opinions.
I thought she handled the time in Vietnam in such a masterful way. You feel like you’re there with Frankie and her friends. It’s scary, exhilarating and so engaging. I just had to keep knowing what was going to happen next. The characters felt real and I grew quite attached to Frankie and wanted the best for her.
There are romances in this story and I felt each were handled well and also quite complex as well as war made everything complicated. I don’t want to give anything away but I thought it was well-done overall.
Something I especially liked was the story focused on the Vietnam War but also very much when Frankie returns home to a changed world. Kristin Hannah covers Frankie’s extremely hard journey with PTSD and it’s so impactful and important to read.
I believe it’s so vital that Kristin Hannah, one of the best-selling authors out there, covers such a complex subject. As it’s noted, the women of the Vietnam War, and really any war, are often left out of the conversation. Despite working as nurses, physicians, medical personal, air traffic control, etc., they were all told when coming back home, “there were no women in Vietnam.”
How absolutely soul crushing. Not only did they deal with protests and a country angry about the war, but their fellow male veterans left them out as well.
But this is where historical fiction can come in and give women who served in the Vietnam War a voice. While the characters are fictional, the subject matter is very much grounded in reality. And I truly learned so much while reading this novel.
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of The Women. I think it will generate much discussion among book clubs, both for those who lived during this time period and those who weren’t born yet. Especially as various wars continue throughout the years and to this day, it’s something that is always going to impact and have devastating effects.
Again, no spoilers, but The Women features one of my favorite endings of all time. It truly ends the right way. This is the must-read book of 2024.
For book clubs, check out my discussion questions here.