The Women Book Club Questions and Discussion Guide

What does it mean to be a hero? This question is more complicated than you may think, and Kristin Hannah explores its meaning through the turmoil experienced by her characters in The Women. This fictional novel is inspired by the very real women who served in the Vietnam war, only to have their service ignored and dismissed by veteran organizations and American citizens. Our The Women book club questions will help you explore the tragedies of the Vietnam war, war protests, loss, strong female friendships, sexism, and patriotism.

The main character, Frankie, leaves her comfortable Californian home to serve as a nurse in Vietnam after her brother is killed in service. The horrors she experiences are unimaginable, but her hardship only continues when she returns home. With the help of her close friends who served with her, Frankie must navigate complicated familial and romantic relationships, betrayal, disappointment, PTSD, and the dismissal of her service in the war.

In our discussion guide for The Women, you’ll get everything you need to have an in-depth book club discussion of this moving book. Included is a synopsis from the publisher, selected reviews from other readers, and 10 The Women book club questions. Also included is a list of 3 books like The Women for further similar reading.

The Women book club questions, with book cover.

The Women Synopsis

(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)

The Women, Kristin Hannah

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over-whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.

10 Book Club Questions for The Women

These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.

  1. “The women had a story to tell, even if the world wasn’t quite yet ready to hear it, and their story began with three simple words. We were there.”

    Were you aware of the service of women in the war in Vietnam? 
  1. What do you think about Frankie’s romantic partners? Which were the best or worst?
  1. Were you familiar with the poor treatment of Vietnam Veterans after they returned from the war? What do you think about it?
  1. “Deep down, she was still the good Catholic girl she’d been in her youth. She believed in good and evil, right and wrong, the dream of America. Who would she be if she chose to look away from the wrongness of this war?”

    How did Frankie’s morals change throughout the book? How did her view of America, and right and wrong, change?
  1. “Some things don’t bear the weight of words. That’s the problem with your generation, you all want to talk, talk, talk. What is the point?”

    There was a huge generational gap in how Frankie and her parents dealt with grief and trauma. How did this affect Frankie in her healing process? Have you experienced this? Do current generations still have this gap?
  1. “The question was, how? How did you get through grief, how did you want to live again when you couldn’t imagine what that life could be, how you could be happy again?”

    There is a lot of grief and tragedy in this story. What touched you the most? What did you most relate to?
  1. Hannah brings up several real life issues that occurred in Vietnam; toxic herbicide spraying, attacks on civilians, prisoners of war, and government lies about the status of the war. How much did you know about the Vietnam war before reading this book? Did you learn anything new?
  1. What did you think of Frankie as a character? Did you relate to her? Would you have acted similarly in the situations she found herself in?
  1. “Thank God for girlfriends. In this crazy, chaotic, divided world that was run by men, you could count on the women.”

    What did you think about Ethel and Barb, and the friendship they shared with Frankie? How did their relationship contrast with others in the book?
  1. How does the “heroes wall” in Frankie’s childhood home influence Frankie’s decisions? How does it reflect her fathers and society’s views on women, and what it means to be a hero?

Selected Reviews for The Women

(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)

“[…] From the moment you dive into Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s story, you’ll become engrossed. It’s almost as if you’re under a spell – you won’t be able to put it down. Her story will grip you, tearing at your heartstrings and evoking numerous tears, as you connect with her fears, heartbreaks, pains, anger, and frustrations. […] She might be the most honest, poignant, tough, and resilient heroine the author has ever created.”

“ […] The foreshadowing is so heavy that the book becomes predictable, and there are far too many characters—all of them are undeveloped. The author did far too much telling instead of showing. Show us memories of Finley and Frances. Give us the backstory on Ethel and Barb. Don’t tell us. Show us.”

“ […] This book also shows how PTSD affected nurses, doctors, and soldiers. How many self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. This book also depicts scenes of great bravery, political upheaval, war protests, the effects of PTSD, self-medication with drugs, friendships, family dynamics, sexism, and growth. The characters are fully fleshed out and feel real. I felt for them, rooted for them, and cried with them.”

“Emotionally, this book is seriously “everything but the kitchen sink”. Just throw in every tragic thing you can think of, it’s there. Just when you think something good might happen, nope. The tragedy gets almost repetitive and boring. Like, how many times do I want to read about her bloody clothes and men’s gaping wounds? How many times do I want to read about her drunken pill popping à la Valley of the Dolls? In a few cases, tragedy conveniently disposed of some plot points and characters which I found annoying. For instance, rather than Frankie having an honest conversation with another character, something traumatic occurs so she doesn’t have to.” 


Use our guide to find dozens of book ideas for your group.

3 Books Like The Women

If you really loved Hannah’s writing style, we’ve also got discussion guides for The Four Winds and The Nightingale. And for more books with a backdrop of war, have a look at The Rose Code and All the Light We Cannot See.

The Diamond Eye, book cover.

The Diamond Eye, Kate Quinn

Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye tells the story of Mila Pavlichenko and the journey that took her from a mother and librarian in Kyiv to becoming one of the most deadly snipers in WWII. Her story continues to the United States, where she is hailed as a hero and involved in the highest levels of government, and must battle ghosts from her past, romantic relationships, and come to terms with her own life decisions.

Read this one for book club and use our Diamond Eye discussion guide.

When We Had Wings, book cover.

When We Had Wings, Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, Susan Meissner

For another story about female nurses during wartime and their friendship, When We Had Wings is an excellent choice. The story follows three nurses who sign up for service in WWII and are stationed in the Philippines. All three are looking for an escape from their past, but things go downhill when they are caught in intense combat when the US and Japan fight for control of the Philippine Islands, ending up as POWs. This powerful story is based on true stories of nurses known as “the Angels of Bataan”.

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, book cover.

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, Kathryn J. Atwood and Diane Evans

(subhead: Medica, Journalists, Survivors, and More)

This non-fiction book explores the true stories of women who experienced the Vietnam war in different capacities. This is a perfect read if you are interested in learning more about the experiences of real women in the war, and the history surrounding them. This book tells the story of various women who served as medics, journalists, resisters, revolutionaries, were POWs, and native Vietnamese. 

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