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A Coming of Conscience Novel


Publication Date:
September 18, 2018


A female recruit, in college on a military scholarship during the Vietnam conflict, has been having doubts about the war. She goes undercover into the campus counterculture, risking future and family as she's torn between heart and duty and finally forced to make a choice as fateful as that of any draftee.

Not All Battlefields Are On The Front

The Fourteenth of September filters a pivotal time frame for an entire generation through the rare perspective of a young woman, tracing her “coming of conscience” between the first Vietnam Draft Lottery and Kent State—an era that, at least on the surface, still belonged to men.

On September 14, 1969, Private First Class Judy Talton celebrates her nineteenth birthday by surreptitiously joining the campus antiwar movement. In doing so she puts in jeopardy both the hard-won army scholarship that’s the ticket to her future, and her relationship with her military family, in particular her mother, a former WW II nurse. But since the Vietnam War escalated from the Tet Offensive to My Lai, Judy’s been having doubts.  If the war is wrong, does her scholarship make her complicit? Who is she if she stays in the army? What is she if she leaves?

When the first date pulled in the Draft Lottery turns up as her birthday, she realizes that if she’d been a man, she’d have been a Number One—off to war with an under-fire life expectancy of six seconds, just like her new friend Wil. The stakes become clear, and she has to make a choice as fateful—and final—as his decision to go to war or dodge the draft.

As Judy plunges deeper into her double life, her choice gets murkier.  The campus begins to mirror the hell of war. The close relationships she’s made with her new friends are challenged as the women try to help the guys cope with the prospect of being drafted. The drugs once used to laugh and expand their minds have now become the kind that junkies use. The drug dealer Sharp is everywhere. There is a suicide attempt, a near arrest, a secret death, increasing alienation from family, even government spies. On top of everything, the Kent State massacre shatters the campus into infighting factions and riots, to the point where the right intentions lose their way. Judy learns to agree with Pete, her ROTC friend, that “picking sides isn’t all that clean.”  All the while, the danger escalates: If the army finds out she’s protesting, she could be prosecuted.  If the movement finds out, they’ll think she’s a spy.

Judy’s journey of self discovery towards a life-changing choice poses a female dilemma with the emotional intensity of the draftee’s decision to go to war, or to Canada. Or, as if Tim O’Brien, in the “On the Rainy River” chapter of The Things They Carried, had been a woman.

Nearly fifty years after Kent State, The Fourteenth of September looks back at the ethics of unwinnable wars, examining questions that now enliven next-generation youth activism. The novel speaks to the poignant clash of young adulthood, early feminism and world politics, offering an ageless inquiry into the domestic politics of protest when the world stops making sense.


In The Zeitgeist

The events of The Fourteenth of September are in the public eye, with new books out covering the ‘60s, as well as the countdown to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, Kent State and other seminal events of the time.


Song Playlist

Songs featured in The Fourteenth of September


Literary References

Tim O'Brien, “On the Rainy River” from The Things They Carried

As it becomes clear the Vietnam War is pointless and unwinnable, the protagonist in “On the Rainy River” gets his draft notice and must make a crucial decision. Will he escape to Canada, or go and fight? Either choice involves tremendous loss and fundamental issues of conscience.


Shirley Jackson, The Lottery

Members of an unnamed town in an unnamed place gather for a deadly, annual ritual.  There is criteria for selection, but no reason why.


What Others Are Saying


“It’s been said that in the anti-war movement of the 1970s, the men stormed the barricades and the women made the coffee. Rita Dragonette has written a strong-hearted and authentic novel about a naive young girl and her struggle to reconcile the dissonance between the world she sees and the world she was raised to believe in. Judy is truly a quiet hero; you won’t forget her.”

–– Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Two if By Sea


“Meet Judy Talton, college student during some of the worst moments of the 1960s. Torn between her duty to country and her antiwar friends, between her family and her desire to make her own way, Judy embodies every conflict of that tumultuous era. Long after you finish the last page of this beautiful, tautly written novel, Judy Talton will echo in your memory.”

–– Peter Golden, author of Nothing Is Forgotten


“Rita Dragonette’s well crafted and deeply felt novel The Fourteenth of September took me back to that turbulent time in the life of my generation, 1969-70, when rock music was the new language of youth, when glimmering hopes of the future slammed up against the realities of war, and when the fate of young men was determined by the pull of a number in the Draft Lottery.  For those, like me, who were there, this novel is a re-immersion into a time of angst, discovery, tragedy and challenge.  For those who came after the ‘60’s, this is a book to learn what all the fuss was about.”

–– Patrick T. Reardon, author of the poetry collection Requiem for David and seven other books.


The Fourteenth of September is a compelling, original book and a great read. It’s at once transporting to an incredible moment in recent history – the anti-Vietnam era of 1969-1970—and still distinctly modern, telling the story of a young woman finding her independence, her voice and her place in the world. The author puts us squarely inside the head of Judy from the first page, and it is an unpredictable, emotional and gripping ride through the end. The more you read, the more complex and interesting each character becomes, evolving from a gaggle of seemingly typical college students to a collection of fully-formed, deeply human and truly unique individuals. This is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys American history, women’s lit … or simply a great story.”

–– Josh Lohrius, author of The Breaking of Goody Boothe


“Rita Dragonette’s novel, The Fourteenth of September, reveals what I have known for a long while—that she is a writer of great talent and integrity who infuses this debut work with an energy and vision that lifts it far beyond the ordinary coming of age story. This is an important book, not to be missed.”

–– Gary D. Wilson, author of Getting Right and Sing, Ronnie Blue


“In The Fourteenth of September, Rita Dragonette transports readers to a college campus in the late ‘60s where youth across America questioned the status quo and flunking out meant front lines. When Judy intentionally crosses the Tune Room in her faded jeans, she isn’t merely joining those who claim to rebel against authority for the collective good. Her journey represents the complexity of every generation’s timeless effort to align conscience with action. Dragonette’s debut novel, neither idealistic nor fatalistic, offers the unique perspective of a young woman facing her own private rebellion.”

–– Elizabeth Wheeler, author of The Asher Trilogy


“Set in the months before and after the 1969 draft lottery, Rita Dragonette’s The Fourteenth of September tells the powerful story of Judy Talton, a young woman who must decide whether to risk her military nursing scholarship to protest the Vietnam War, which she has become convinced is morally wrong. Dragonette brilliantly depicts how the urgency of political commitment complicates the self-absorption of adolescence, the intense bonds of family, friendship and love—often with devastating consequences. This is not only a novel for those of us who look back and marvel at the profound decisions we were called upon to make when we were so young, but for a whole new generation facing the crucial questions of a turbulent, changing world that will define them.”

–– Barbara Shoup, author of Looking for Jack Kerouac, An American Tune, Night Watch, Faithful Women, Wish You Were Here, Vermeer’s Daughter, Stranded in Harmony and Everything You Want


“Rita Dragonette's debut novel gracefully and magnificently arcs the full distance between the deeply personal and the global. In its depiction of a seminal point in the history of our country – the deep divide over the Vietnam War that provided the backdrop for the seismic shift at the end of 1960's – her story paints a sharp portrayal of a place and time, while artfully tackling questions of universal significance: at what point must we find our own voice and speak up? How do we determine what is meaningful action and what is not? And how to we measure the need to act versus a personal cost to ourselves? In a novel that gathers momentum with each page, Rita Dragonette has given us a work of recent historical fiction with profound relevance for today.”

–– Barbara Monier, author of You, In Your Green Shirt and A Little Birdie Told Me