The Fourteenth of September

Written by Rita Dragonette
Review by Ellen Keith

Judy Talton is a sophomore at Central Illinois University in 1969. She’s from a small town in Illinois, from a family that had has no money for girls to go to college, so she’s got to get a scholarship. She got one, courtesy of the Army, so she has to commit to her second two years at Walter Reed and seven years as an Army nurse. Her mother, a nurse in World War II, heartily approves. But Judy, on her nineteenth birthday on September 14, makes overtures to the anti-Vietnam group on campus. She’s welcomed, finds a purpose, and wrestles with telling her new friends about her commitment to the Army, trying to maintain a low profile in the movement while showing a gift for organizing.

Dragonette has written a moving book on this time in history from a rarely heard point of view. It’s unclear if Judy’s Army service will entail going overseas, but she’s close to male students who find themselves with alarmingly low draft numbers, and the realities of the war in Vietnam hit very close to home. Her mother is cold and critical, having been proud of her service in the Second World War, so there is no sympathy from that quarter for Judy’s increasing pacifism.

The details are just right: the clothes, campus life, when time with friends is more important than classes: those years when choices may be wrong, but they are yours to make. Dragonette is also unsparing of the personalities in the anti-war movement, capturing the charismatic blowhard, the one who quietly despairs, and the women who love them. I don’t think this is intended to be a series, but I would love to see what Judy does next.