Desert Isle Keeper
In Katie Sise’s latest Young Adult novel, The Academy, we meet Frankie Brooks, a budding fashionista with a successful blog, an amazing family, and great friends. But when she makes a few too many mistakes, her parents decide that the best way to teach her how to be a responsible, mature adult is a stint at her grandfather’s alma mater, which just happens to be a military school. Convinced this is going to ruin her life, Frankie soon realises that military school might just be the making of her. She finds out that she’s more than a fashion blogger; she’s a driven, strong, strategizing student capable of greatness – with a little help from a stern Sergeant, a quiet roommate and the academy’s friendliest, and hottest, senior.
This novel is a great read for a number of reasons. Among them is that Frankie’s interest in fashion is taken seriously in the book, both by the author and the other characters. Though Sergeant Sturtevant gives her some side-eye for her lack of focus early on in her time at the academy, she never admonishes Frankie for her interests; she just wants to make sure that Frankie is making full use of her talents. While Frankie struggles in math and the athletic side of her education, often coming last in training competitions, she develops a knack for military strategy and teamwork, two things she never gave a second thought to when all her energy was focused on her fashion blog. Not only does she cultivate her talents in these areas, but she also works on improving her athletic stamina and endurance for the annual War Games, which takes only the most academically well-rounded and physically capable students for the competition each year. I love that she focuses more on her ranking for the War Games than she does about the Marine Corps Dance. It’s a good reminder to readers, adults included, that one’s interests don’t have to align with some preconceived notion about your personality. Just because Frankie’s a fashion blogger doesn’t mean she can’t be more interested in building up her endurance and strength than in what outfit she’s going to wear to the dance.
Frankie also acknowledges her privilege throughout the book; she realises that she’s had a pretty blessed upbringing, and that while her problems and frustrations are real and valid, she’s lucky to have such great opportunities and a strong support system. This keeps the story grounded in reality and prevents her character from getting too ‘woe is me’ when things aren’t going as she had planned.
Perhaps my favourite things about The Academy are the myriad examples of realistic, positive relationships. The relationship between Frankie and Sergeant Sturtevant is tense, but it’s not overly authoritarian; rather, it’s one woman (Sturtevant) believing in another and wanting her to do her best. The friendship that grows between Frankie and her roommate, Joni, also makes me want to leap with joy. They’re both so supportive of each other in every aspect of their lives and their reactions to each other’s actions and feelings display real emotional intelligence. And of course we can’t forget about the friendship/relationship between Frankie and Jack, an all-around good human being who is supportive of his friends, open with his feelings and honest about his mistakes.
If you want a light, fun read with a strong, capable heroine, pick up this book. It’s engaging, charming, and impossible to put down once you’ve started.
reviewed by Emily Keyes