An extract from The Women by Kristin Hannah

Read an exclusive extract from worldwide bestselling author Kristin Hannah's upcoming novel, The Women.

Kristin Hannah is the author of more than twenty books including The Four WindsThe Nightingale, Firefly Lane (now a Netflix series) and new novel The Women. 

The story follows twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath. Raised on California’s idyllic Coronado Island and sheltered by her conservative parents, she's always prided herself on doing the right thing, being a good girl. But in 1965 the world is changing, and she suddenly imagines a different path for her life. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she impulsively joins the Army Nurses Corps and follows him there.

A story of devastating loss, epic love and the power of female friendship, The Women comes out in February 2024, and you can read an exclusive extract below. 

Mass casualty. That was what they called tonight, or actually MASCAL. Apparently, since the recent influx of troops, it was beginning to happen so often that they didn’t have time to call it by its full name.

Frankie stood in the back corner of the Quonset hut that housed the ER. After nine hours on duty, she was beyond exhausted and her feet burned with blisters, but it wasn’t the ache in her bones and muscles and feet that mattered. It was shame.

How on earth had she thought she belonged here? That she had something to offer men who were grievously wounded? She’d been as much help as a candy striper.

Tonight she’d held scissors in hands that never quite stopped shaking and cut off T-shirts and flak jackets and pants, revealing wounds that she couldn’t have imagined before today. She still heard patients’ screams inside her head, even though the ward had emptied a while ago.

Casualties, she reminded herself. Back in the world, they were patients; here, they were casualties. The Army was full of terms like back in the world. That was how everyone referred to the life that they’d left behind.

Frankie sighed heavily, heard footsteps, and knew it was Ethel, coming to check up on her.

“Well, that was an ass-kicker,” Ethel said, lighting up a cigarette. “And no, not every day is like this, thank God.”

In her mind, Frankie nodded. She was pretty sure that in fact she just stood there, staring at nothing.

Ethel put an arm around her. “How are you, Frank?”

“Useless,” was all she could say.

“No one is ever ready for this. The worst part is that you’ll get used to it. Come on.”

Ethel kept her hold on Frankie, led her through the camp. Frankie felt every one of the new blisters on her feet. Outside, the night air smelled heavy, like blood on metal; there was no moon to light the way.

In the mess, she saw a few men sitting in the enlisted section, drinking coffee, and as they approached the O Club, she smelled smoke wafting through the beaded curtain. Music followed the smoke, infused it with memories of home. “I wanna hold your ha-aaaa-and.

In the distance, she heard the whoosh of waves rolling in and out. The sound called to her like a siren song, reinflated her youth. Nights on bicycles with Finley, riding free, their arms outstretched, stars overhead. . . 

She pulled away from Ethel and walked alongside a coil of concertina wire, a barrier of razor-sharp spikes.

In front of her: the sea. It was a glow of silver, a sense of movement, and the comforting familiarity of it, the salty tang in the air, called out to her, reminded her of home. On the beach, she sat down in the sand and closed her eyes.

She felt the salt, tasted it. The sea—

No. Not the sea.

She was crying.

“You can’t be out here alone, Frank. Not all soldiers are gentlemen.” Ethel sat down beside her.

“I’ll add that to my list of mistakes.”

“Yeah. You gotta be careful. Over here, the men lie and they die.”

Frankie had no idea what to say to that.

“So. Which is it?” Ethel finally said.

Frankie wiped her eyes and looked sideways. “What?”

“Are you out here grieving the boys we lost or your own piss-poor set of nursing skills?”


“That means you’ve got what it takes, Frank. We all went through it. Nurses back in the world are second-class citizens. And, big surprise—they’re mostly women. Men keep us in boxes, make us wear starched virgin white, and tell us that docs are gods. And the worst part is, we believe them.”

“Doctors aren’t gods here?”

“Of course they are. Just ask them.” Ethel pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket, tapped one out, offered it.

Frankie took the cigarette. She didn’t smoke—never had—but just now, it gave her something to do with her unsteady hands and blocked out the smell of blood.

“Why did you join the Army?” Ethel asked.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. It was a stupid, childish thing to do.”

She turned to Ethel. “Why did you join?”

“We all have a long-story and a short-story answer to that, I guess. Long story, after I got my nursing degree, I decided I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a veterinarian. I was headed that way when the man I loved shipped out. Short story: I followed him.” Her voice softened. “His name was George. He had a laugh that fixed everything.”

“And he—”

“Died. And you?”

“. . . I wanted to make a difference.” Frankie stopped, hearing the naivete in her words.

“Yeah. That’s why I re-upped for a second tour. We all want that, Frank.”

Back in the world, when Frankie had told her friends that she’d hoped to make a difference over here, hoped to make her family proud, they’d rolled their eyes and acted impatient with patriotism; but out here, sitting beside this woman she barely knew, Frankie remembered the pride she’d felt on joining the Army.

“I’m sorry about your guy,” Frankie said. “George.”

“He was a real looker, my Georgie,” Ethel said with a sigh. “And for a while, I hated that I’d followed him here and lost him anyway, but I stuck it out, and now I’m glad I stayed. That’s what I’ve learned, Frank. I am better and stronger than I ever thought, and when I go back to my daddy’s farm in Virginia and get back into vet school, I know there’s nothing that can stop me. I want it all, Frank. A husband, a kid, a career. A big ole life that ends when I can barely get out of my rocker, with kids and animals and friends all around me. You’ll find out what you want over here, too. I promise.”

“Thanks, Ethel.”

“Now, enough seaside weeping. Do you drink, Frank?”

Frankie didn’t know how to answer that. She’d gone to fraternity mixers in college, and she’d had a few beers, and she’d had two shots of whiskey on her first night in Vietnam, but really, she was a good girl who followed the rules. She’d turned twenty-one in December—the age drinking was legal in California—but with the terrible holidays last year, she hadn’t celebrated her birthday. “I have.”

“There’s plenty of it over here,” Ethel said. “Watch out. Take care of yourself. That’s my advice. I don’t drink, but I don’t judge, either. Over here it’s live and let live. Whatever gets you through the night.” She got to her feet, put a hand down for Frankie. “Get up, Lieutenant, brush yourself off, and let’s clean up and fill our bellies and then head to the O Club to blow off some steam. You just survived your first MASCAL in ’Nam.”

The Women

by Kristin Hannah

Frankie McGrath, a nursing student in 1965 California, has her world transformed when she's told "women can be heroes, too." Joining the Army Nurses Corps to follow her brother to Vietnam, Frankie faces the harsh realities of war and its aftermath. Amidst chaos and heartbreak, she finds strength in female friendship and learns the value of sacrifice and commitment. This emotionally charged novel illuminates the often-forgotten stories of women who bravely served their country. With a memorable heroine, searing insights, and lyrical beauty, The Women is a poignant tale of courage.