"Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War" by Helen Thorpe

Jul 29, 2014

Our guest on StudioTulsa is the noted Denver-based journalist and nonfiction author Helen Thorpe, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and elsewhere. Thorpe's first book, 2009's widely acclaimed "Just Like Us," tellingly profiled the lives of three young Latinas living in the United States. Her newly published second book, "Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War," takes a close look at three female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In doing so, the book explores the overlapping yet distinct effects of active duty on these three soldiers' lives, relationships, careers, friends, children, and futures. As was noted of "Soldier Girls" in a starred review in Kirkus: "A journalist tells the absorbing story of how wartime experiences shaped the lives and friendships of three female soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.... Michelle Fischer, Debbie Helton, and Desma Brooks were three Indiana women who had very different reasons for joining the National Guard. The teenage Fischer wanted money for college. Helton, a 30-something single mother, wanted 'a means of submerging herself in a group she held in high esteem.' Brooks, a 20-something with no clear life goals, joined 'on a dare.' Each expected to fulfill their service obligations in Indiana, but in the wake of 9/11, all three would get far more than they bargained for. Thorpe follows Fischer, Helton, and Brooks over 12 years and two life-changing overseas deployments. She explores how the women met and bonded despite differences in age, political affiliations, and background. Fiercely competent and dedicated, they were treated as outsiders to a male establishment that too-often regarded them with a combination of amusement, suspicion, hostility, and desire. Yet the women showed that they were no different from the males with whom they served: They drank too much, had affairs, and felt equally diminished when fellow soldiers died in combat. The obstacles they faced at home -- divorces, resentful children, reintegration into society as parents, daughters, wives, and lovers -- were no less formidable. When Brooks returned to Indiana with PTSD, Thorpe reveals the devastating impact that condition -- which is not as much discussed among female soldiers -- had on not only her career, but also her life as a struggling single mother of three. The women would disagree about the value of the time they spent swept up in unexpected wars, yet as Thorpe demonstrates, none would ever question the meaning of the unstinting love and support they gave to each other and gratefully returned.... [This is] intensely immersive reading."