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"Formation - A Woman's Memoir of Stepping Out of Line"


—Adrian Liang

Amazon Book Review

Until I read Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line, I hadn’t realized that I’d grown habituated to the simplistic, single-hump emotional rollercoaster of most memoirs. Ryan Leigh Dostie’s story of her life so far—raised in a matriarchal cult in Connecticut, joining the army to pursue her love of languages, her sexual assault by a fellow solider, deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the crippling aftershocks of PTSD—flings the reader around so many unsettling corkscrews as well as breathtaking highs and lows that you may stagger when you flip the final page. The core of Dostie’s story is not her tour in Iraq; nor is it the military itself, which she admits she often loved. The assault, followed by the army’s determination that her accusation is “unsubstantiated” despite evidence to the contrary, claws away at Dostie’s confidence and self-worth, propelling her along dangerous paths. But Formation is a war memoir, too. Her stories about battle and occupation will sound familiar to regular readers of the genre, as will the psychological impacts that gut the soldiers on the ground. When a male soldier tells her, “I don’t think I can ever love again,” she’s terrified of this insight even as numbness swells inside her as well. True life rarely hews to a predicable narrative structure, and Dostie refuses to perpetuate that myth, penning a memoir that inspires, terrifies, enrages, and prompts triumphant fist-pumping all at once. 

— Keltie Peay


“The act from which this riveting memoir springs is a rape—the rape of a young intoxicated private by another soldier in the dead of night. But the real horror is The After, and The After That, and The After After That. From the indifference of her command to what has happened, and the scorn and humiliation she endures from fellow soldiers, to her failure to escape the rumors about her reputation even after her deployment to Iraq and her subsequent rapidly ballooning weight, we follow a very personal narrative. Yet it is the underlying and systemic brutality that she endures both as a female soldier and just an ordinary enlisted soldier that proves most haunting. Here, the chicken and egg problem seems solvable—it is the environment that allows the rape, not the violation that creates the environment. This is an important and compelling memoir not just of sexual violence in the military (although she tells that story with genuine and unvarnished candor), it is about what war costs those who serve.  A Combat Patch is not just earned with deployment and gunfire, it is earned by becoming a witness and becoming inured to inhumanity.”


“[An] unquestionably inspiring story traversing the personal and public battlefields of sexual assault in the armed forces…Each of these narratives deserves to be heard.”

—Jake Halpern

New York Times bestselling author of BAD PAPER

“Here is the war memoir re-invented. Dostie offers a beautiful, soulful, and astonishingly fresh take on the war in Iraq, and a deeply original book. Formation should be a must read at West Point, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and all points in between.“

— Sarah Hepola

New York Times bestselling author of BLACKOUT

"Formation grabs us by the collar and never relents, much like Dostie herself, whose path to independence gets paved with blood and sacrifice. Her gripping memoir lays bare the pain of proving yourself in a man's world, but also the rich rewards. Most of us will probably never go to war, but Dostie's story speaks to a daily struggle many of us face: the battle to believe in ourselves."

— Susannah Cahalan

#1 New York Timesbestselling author of BRAIN ON FIRE

"This is a fierce memoir of survival-a visceral and vital portrait of what it takes to thrive as a woman in a man's world. Time is long overdue for the world to hear Ryan Leigh Dostie's remarkable story of resilience in the face of the unspeakable."

— Publishers Weekly

"Raw, explosive...Dostie writes powerfully...In the sparse landscape of war memoirs by female soldiers, Dostie's resolute, literary account of her five years in the army sets a benchmark."

— Christa Parravani

Bestselling author of HER: A MEMOIR

"An essential telling of one woman's account of training and combat: staggeringly beautiful, gutsy, and harrowing. Dostie has written the rare memoir that is destined to be a classic. I couldn't put this book down and I never wanted it to end."

— Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Awareness

"Vital, brutal and absolutely compelling...A significant standout."

— Anthony Swofford

New York Times bestselling author of JARHEAD

"FORMATION is a brilliant addition to the memoirs of war. With grounded and elegant prose Dostie narrates her harrowing journey into combat and through the violent quagmire of Military Sexual Trauma. We should all read this heroic and timely book.”

— Phil Klay

National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment

"Though I knew it would be urgent, compelling, and excellent from the first page, Formation was a much more expansive book than I even could have suspected: a riveting, enraging memoir from an author of remarkable toughness and emotional range. This is an unflinching and honest account of war, of homecoming, and of what happens when a woman reports an assault and the institutions around her try to smother the truth."

Formation on "Top Read Lists"