Cover Image: Formation


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Member Reviews

This. Book. Maybe this review is a little biased because I am serving my country as well. I am a woman in a military created by men. So I cried while reading this. I was very angry, very sad. And I get all sort of emotions because I had that insight of the military world. I want to thank the author for writing this because is something that needs to be speak of without any fear of being punished or targeted. Thank you for this.
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Dostie's memoir focuses on her time in the army, and, particularly her sexual assault and the handling of her attach by the military.  She has an astonishing ability to be unflinching but sincerely curious about all of the issues that arise.  This book feels like a dialogue rather than a manifesto.  In addition to the unraveling of toxic masculinity, rape culture, consent, and sexual assault, Dostie also confronts body image, government bureaucracy, and growing up in a cult.  This memoir necessarily provokes anger but does so with a heart toward understanding.  Dostie highlights her own ambivalence about labeling her rape as such.  And, throughout the book we see good people living in bad systems trying to do their part to make those systems better.
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A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

It's difficult to find a single quote to quantify the anger that sticks in one's craw while reading Ryan Leigh Dostie's Formation: A Woman's Memoir of Stepping Out of Line. The sheer number, along with Dostie's evocative recounting, renders it impossible. Examples include tried-and-trues such as: "It's your word against his" and "Are you sure you want to ruin this guy's life?"

"Unsubstantiated" was the term used by Dostie's captain to announce to her entire army company the result of an "investigation" into her rape by a fellow soldier. Hesitant to report, Dostie turned to her command, the "father figures" and "abstract constructs of justice and integrity" who were supposed to protect her, only to have them stonily and resoundingly tell her, "No."

Neither Dostie nor her memoir is defined by her rape, but it viscerally informs them. A Persian-Farsi linguist in military intelligence, Dostie ships off with her unit to Iraq not long after 9/11 (and her rape). As she navigated the testosterone-laden hierarchy as a female soldier and isolated trauma survivor, her sense of self was further eroded. She over-ate to create a shield of her body and began cutting to find relief.

Threading back through Dostie's upbringing in a Christian cult to her life after the army, Formation delves brilliantly into the Venn diagram of trauma, patriarchy, the military and what it means to be a woman at the center. Growing up, Dostie thought she might want to write crime fiction. Instead, life handed her a personal true crime one wishes had been the product of her imagination.

STREET SENSE: All stories like Dostie's are enraging. Hers is particularly well-written and complex. With the added layer of being raised in a cult with a female power structure, she was perhaps less prepared for the patriarchy of the military (in the manner of speaking that she might not have foreseen the reaction to her case, not that she f'ing should have been more prepared - oh for the day when our girls don't have to be prepared). I can't even begin to express how much the events of this book torqued my shorts, as should they everyone's. But I also got lost in Dostie's intellect and insight, her ability to put on paper what happened, and is happening, to her. No easy task and particularly well done. Highly recommended.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I imagine an attempted rape while I walk here in the dark, where men think to violate me and I envision each try ending with brutality as I thwart them, again and again, each fantasy a shock of lovely adrenaline, as if I can rewrite my own narrative, begging for it to happen again so I can revise how it ended, give myself the happily ever after. I imagine clumps of flesh and body parts on the pavement. [Note: the next passage goes into great detail about the violence Dostie dreams of and I almost included the whole thing but ended up feeling it was too long for a blog quote. But please, pick up the book and get to the rest of it. Powerful work.]

COVER NERD SAYS:  This is one of my favorite covers of the year thus far. It's crisp and clean and the fonts are just right. I'm not a fan of cover blurbs, but at least this one is as about as small as they come and doesn't outweigh the title, subtitle or author name. And that image. Simply genius. A true testament to the idea that you don't need a lot to get the message across. I could go on, but you get the message.
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This is a memoir that was hard to read, but necessary. I would like to thank the author for her service. It takes a hard look at the military and service. It tells the story of a woman who has been through so much. It tells the story of a survivor and her strength. 

I would like to thank the netgalley and the publisher for providing me a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion.
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Nice read. A lot of the book was difficult to read. Author went thru so much. Have so much respect for her. Thank you for your service. 

Thanks to author,publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free,it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
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I can count on the fingers of one hand the nonfiction that has made me cry, and Formation is one of them. 

Here's the thing. This book is hard to read. It is rough. Not because it's bad, but because it is stunningly, blindingly good. Powerful. So deeply personal it feels intrusive to read it at times. But it tells so many important messages about so many things - rape culture, mental health, fat shaming and fat phobia, the damage that religious purety culture can cause... the general complexity of being a woman or a woman-like human being in this world. 

Formation touched some of the same nerves as Educated, and I think both titles will take their place in a powerful subgenre of memoir.
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