Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Battle Dress by Amy Efaw

Tags: YA, college, West Point, military, army, feminism, sexism, family


For Andi and 1000 other incoming freshmen at West Point Academy, the first six weeks of the summer are the Beast, an intense training regime designed to break them all down, weed the weak from the rest, and reshape them into the best future members of the US Army. Andi battles taunts from squad leaders, classmate prejudices and problems, and her ongoing issues with her messed up family, and finds out what being a cadet truly means.


Most of you do not know this about me, but I have always been fascinated by military protocol. For a nation that champions individuality and creativity, its military seems to be one of the last bastions of enforced conformity and groupthink. Coming from both a collectivist and individualistic culture, I can see the pros and cons of this military protocol. BATTLE DRESS was a solid glimpse into the mysterious world of West Point, although Andi’s internal conflicts were a little roughly drawn.

Creative insults and capital letters flood the pages of BATTLE DRESS, appropriate for the strict discipline surrounding West Point. I enjoyed how the book so thoroughly created the terrifyingly intimidating environment of the Beast: small details such as the different uniforms required for different activities, the time (these cadets have to get up unbelievably early), and the language really contribute to making you feel as if you were experiencing Beast too—without the ridiculously early wake-up calls and five-mile runs, that is.

So I appreciated the details that made Beast come to life for me, but felt much less connected to all the characters, including Andi. There is a sort of running conflict between Andi and her unsupportive, mentally abusive family, and Andi’s feminist side. What exactly a kind of space does a female occupy in the still male-dominated military world? Andi’s feminine roommate, Gabrielle, and a handful of stereotypical sexist squad members contribute to the theme of women’s rights in the military, but in a way that always felt very glossed over and underdeveloped.

Interestingly enough, I think this book might’ve worked better for me if it had just stuck with a straightforward presentation of Beast and not tried so hard to make Andi have complicated emotional issues. I felt like Andi’s struggles to overcome her family’s disappointment, contributing to and combined with her obsession with proving herself in Beast, lent a forced feel to the story. No, I’m not questioning the fact that she has family issues—but issues as delicate as that one need to be carefully and thoroughly developed, and I think that BATTLE DRESS may have relied a bit too much on Andi’s family’s inarguable meanness to carry that part of the plot along.

Overall, however, BATTLE DRESS will make a great read for anyone interested in West Point or the military training culture. Amy Efaw’s personal experience translates well onto the page, and the book does not disappoint in that aspect.

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - This is actually a reprint of a book that came out a decade ago, and I think that the redesigned cover will make it much more appealing to the modern YA reader. It keeps things short and straight to the point, and the title fonts are cool, even if the title itself is a rather bizarre attempt to touch upon both the book's military and feminism issues.

Penguin / Dec. 2, 2010 (reprint) / Paperback / 304pp. / $8.99

Personal copy bought.


  1. Would be a good one if I decide to do another military in YA theme week. Thanks!

  2. I'll have to remember this one if I like 'After'. I'm not huge on the military, but I got a taste of it in 'The Fortune of Carmen Navarro' and would be interested in reading a little more about life in a military academy.

  3. Ahhh don't think this is my kind of read biu on a positive note, I adore your blog!! keep up the awesome work :)

  4. Having been station at West Point as a military journalist before women were allowed into the academy, I think I would like to read this and see just how it holds up to my experiences and knowledge of the inner workings of the Beast barracks. Thanks for the review!

  5. I read this one back in the summer and since read After by Efaw as well. Her writing is tremendous and so in-depth that you can't help but feel as though you're a part of the story and the character.
    Great review.

  6. Hi, Steph,

    Thanks for the thoughtful review of BATTLE DRESS. I just came across this today.

    Just so you do know, Battle Dress was taken from the combat uniform of the era when the story took place -- Battle Dress Uniform. My publisher at the time (Harper Collins) liked the gender/military mix that it conveyed. This hadn't been the working title I used, but I've learned that my working titles aren't what publishers want on the cover of their books -- lol.

    Anyway, thanks for the review!

  7. Thanks, Steph, for your thoughtful review! I just came across this today (how many months after you published it?!).

    Just so you do know, the title, Battle Dress, comes from the combat uniform that was worn during the time that the book took place -- the Battle Dress uniform. My publisher at the time (HarperCollins) liked the gender/military mix that it conveyed. It hadn't been my working title for the novel, but I've learned that my working titles are seldom appealing to my publishers!

    Anyway, thanks again for the review!



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