4 out of 5 stars
I have read more than my fair share of military biographies, and most of them are so-so, with the most notable exceptions being those of Ulysses Grant, Winston Churchill, and T.E. Lawrence. Mary Jennings Hegar’s Shoot Like A Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and the Home Front may not quite be as good but it’s damn close. In fact, in some ways it is better. This book may not be a work of literature equal to the ones that I have just mentioned, but Ms. Hegar is fighting two battles here; she is documenting her life as a soldier, and a warrior, and also telling the tale of her battle with the entrenched biases against women serving in the military, and particularly against women serving in combat.
Ms. Hegar takes us through her life from before high school up until the end of her career, and she does not stint or gloss over the personal ups and downs she experienced. After being commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, Ms. Hegar was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard, finishing at the top of her class. Eventually she served three tours in Afghanistan, flying search-and rescue missions, culminating with an extremely dangerous mission that ended with her winning a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Through all of this Ms. Hegar’s prose style is transparent in the best way, giving equal insight into her relationships with friends and family, and also into the nuts and bolts reality of being a soldier. From the humdrum down time to the nerve-wracking realities of combat Ms. Hegar never overplays her hand. It all feels as solid and real as a brick. Not surprisingly the scenes involving flight are so vivid that I felt that I was right there in the cockpit. The author also shows a real knack for describing complex processes and procedures in a clear way, without over-simplification. What gives this book an extra lift is that the author takes the same approach in dealing with her personal and emotional life. Whether dealing with sexual harassment or her first turbulent marriage, or times when her drive to be the best actually became an impediment to the success of a particular mission, Ms. Hegar lets the moment speak for itself. Rare is the writer who can accomplish that without putting their thumb on the scale. Let me make clear that that does not mean that she tells her story without passion or feeling. There are plenty of moments that made want to cry, or stand up and cheer, but Ms. Hegar is first and foremost a soldier, and ir shows in her matter-of fact approach to even the most difficult parts of her life.
Shoot Like A Girl is a tight, taut gripping book by and about a kick-ass woman warrior. ANd one of the most intriguing aspects of the book is when Ms. Hegar shows us that she sees her role not only a duty, but a joy. When things are their most perilous Ms. Hegar seems to bloom, and she shows this time and again, without ever dismissing the fact that her life, and the lives of her comrades are on the line. Heroic is a word that is often tossed around lightly, but I really think cannot think of a word that fits better here.
As always I have tried not to drop any spoilers, but I will give you one teaser, in the hopes that if my review isn’t enough to make you read this book may this will; the title is not an insult, but a compliment. If you want to know how and why, well, read this book. You won’t regret it.