“There’s More to the Story”
Award-winning journalist and author Helen Thorpe will give the address at the Ogden Honors College Convocation on Wednesday, September 7. Thorpe is the author of this year’s Ogden Honors Shared Read book, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and War, which tells the story of three women in the National Guard who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I wrote the book because I felt that there was this huge disconnect between the civilian part of society, to which I belong, and the military community,” Thorpe said. “I felt as though we weren’t welcoming them back properly because we didn’t understand what they went through. So I really wanted to write about the experience of veterans coming home.”
Thorpe interviewed men and women in all branches of the military before settling on the three women she eventually wrote the book about.
“I felt a strong connection with Michelle, Debbie and Desma,” Thorpe said. “I was drawn to them because of their personalities, and how irreverent they were, and how much they were willing to share with me.”
“I also felt that I really connected to Desma’s story,” Thorpe continued. “ Being a single mother and having three children and trying to juggle two deployments—that was the story that ultimately I felt had to be told.”
Thorpe hopes that readers of Soldier Girls will learn that “there’s more to the story of what it means to be female and serve in the military.”
“We’ve deployed a lot of single moms over the last decade and very little has been said about it. Almost all the media coverage of women in the military focuses on sexual assault and sexual harassment, which are huge issues and are really important, but the predicament of single mom is a huge piece of the puzzle that I felt was underreported.”
Thorpe’s magazine work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and 5280. Published in 2009, her first novel, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, won the Colorado Book Award and was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post. In 2014, Soldier Girls was named the number one nonfiction book of the year by TIME magazine.
Thorpe is thrilled that Ogden Honors students are reading and engaging with her book. Her hope is that they’ll be able to relate to the characters, even if they’ve never considered enlisting in the military themselves.
“When I was writing the book I thought about Michelle as a character that a lot of people might be able to identify with,” Thorpe said. “Sometimes civilians have a hard time understanding why someone would enlist in the military. I think people can identify with Michelle because she was trying to find a way to pay for college and didn’t think it would be that big of a commitment before September 11. She was caught unawares by that event and her whole life was transformed.”
“I also think in many ways the book is about transitions—how you manage the transition of leaving home, or entering the military, or coming back home from a deployment. Those who are starting college are themselves managing a pretty big transition and I hope it resonates on a different level with them.”
Thorpe’s address will be on Wednesday, September 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the LSU Student Union Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing.