While attending university on a full army scholarship, Pvt First Class Judy Talton becomes a hippie-freak protestor of the Vietnam War. The Fourteenth of September (She Writes Press) by Rita Dragonette draws on the author’s own campus experiences to deliver a fresh perspective–a woman in the military. The story that you have all heard before from the movies, to classic songs (“1-2-3 What are we fighting for?”), to the endless Wikipedia page has become new and unforgettable.
In her debut novel, Dragonette tackles the unsettling conflict that still haunts us today. Over 60,000 US military lives were taken, over 150,000 wounded and with over 1600 still missing. For those who faced going to war unwillingly, there was little rhyme or reason to explain it.
Against everything she’s been taught, everything she’s grown up with, Judy dons the protest uniform of the 1960s – worn jeans and a fatigue jacket she found at the Salvation Army resale shop. She’s uncomfortable, but it feels, somehow, right.
Throughout the book, Judy struggles with the decisions many young people were facing back then – about drugs, about sex, about politics, everything secondary to the hulking presence of the draft and a war they couldn’t understand. She must keep her army status secret from her new friends, and her participation in the anti-war efforts secret from her mother. She juggles friendships, loyalty, love and jealousy.
For readers who were college and high school students during the war years, The Fourteenth of September will be like scraping a fingernail across a healing scar. For those who were not, this book will be an education and perhaps a rebuke of today’s attitude of entitlement and privilege.
Politics and the usual teenage angst clash, as do love – or what passes as love – and friendship. Judy falls for David, David messes around with Sally, Sally wanders off. Judy must ask her dear friend Pete, who is also in the military, to keep her secret. She lies to her new best friend Vida. She walks a tightrope between betrayal and commitment so well that we as readers almost forget who she really is.
This group of impassioned students organize, make banners, march on Washington, sing and resist. They also cry and make love, hide and run away. They are on the brink of being adults, children trying to do the right thing.
When the lottery for the draft was televised, Americans all over the globe watched in grisly fascination. Judy and her friends clutched each other in horrid anticipation, the boys heavy with dread. The order in which the young men were called up for duty was according to birthdays (this reviewer’s husband’s number was 18). Judy saw, with clarity and irony, that her birthday, September 14, was #1. If she were a boy, she’d be going to Vietnam. Months later, Judy and her friends watched the events explode at Kent State.
Judy’s unhappy confusion, her emotional conflict and terrible efforts to make things work, keeps the reader hoping for the best. Although we know the history, most of us don’t know what to advise Judy, even if we could.
The Fourteenth of September is now available.
About Rita Dragonette:
RITA DRAGONETTE is a writer who, after spending nearly thirty years telling the stories of others as an award-winning public relations executive, has returned to her original creative path. The Fourteenth of September, her debut novel, is based upon personal experiences on campus during the Vietnam War, and she is currently at work on three other books: an homage to The Sun Also Rises about expats chasing their last dream in San Miguel de Allende, a World War II novel based upon her interest in the impact of war on and through women, and a memoir in essays. She lives and writes in Chicago, where she also hosts literary salons to showcase authors and their new books to avid readers.