Efaw, Amy. Battle Dress. Harper Teen, 2002. ISBN 978-0060279431 304 pp. $
On the ride to West Point, Andi’s siblings bicker and her mother tries to get out of the speeding car at 65 mph and then throws her dad’s glasses out the window so he will be forced to let her drive. With a family like this, it’s no wonder Andi welcomes the grueling six week boot camp experience, known discomfortingly as “Beast.” Anticipation quickly turns to tolerance as she is verbally abused to relearn how to walk, talk, even eat. The fear that she will fall into the category of dropout like a third of her class haunts her almost as constantly as she defends her boy-crazy roommate.
One of the few girls in the class of 1996, Andi struggles to fit in and gain the respect of her peers, her superiors, and her family. Frequent run-ins with a misogynist cadet bring up feminist issues. West Point ultimately becomes a place where she learns new skills, makes friends, breaks records as a runner, and discovers that her squad leader is human, after all.
The climax of the book, a sequence of trials that puts everything the new cadets have learned together, gets a bit long and drawn out as Efaw describes the step-by-step solution to each problem. Still, this is where Andi really has a chance to shine.
The book is nicely supplemented with a map of West Point, a chart of seniority, and a glossary of military terms and slang. An author’s note puts the book into context (Efaw graduated from West Point in 1989) and explains what was left out in the hopes of simplification.
The hardcover version has an unappealing old-fashioned look; why didn’t the art director feature a West Point cadet’s uniform instead? The West Point badge on the back is very appropriate. Battle Dress offers a unique point of view and lots of action, and will be perfect for anyone, male or female, who wants to know how bad boot camp really is. In spite of intense writing and a strong female character, this book may need some pushing. Purchase in paperback.