The good: Captures a time period in Australia that isn’t talked about too much.
The not-so-good: Couldn’t stop reading!
Why I chose it: I loved the premise and the cover. Thanks Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: Victoria, Australia
Rating: 9 out of 10
Hello, Goodbye by Emily Brewin looks like a deceptively simple coming of age story but it packs an extra punch. It reveals Australian attitudes to war, young mothers and Aboriginal people in the late 1960s. Fortunately we’ve made some progress since then. This was an interesting story where the pages just flew by. Emily Brewin’s debut is assured, heartfelt and very Australian.
Hello, Goodbye is told from the point of view of May, a teenager in the small Victorian town of Nurrigul. There isn’t too much to do in town besides hang out with cousin Lucy and boyfriend Sam. May’s home life isn’t easy. After a family tragedy, her mother turned to religion and her dad disappears for long periods, trying to come to terms with his experiences in World War II. When Sam announces he’s moving to Melbourne, May is devastated but open to the challenge of sneaking down to visit him. In Melbourne, May’s eyes are opened to another world – meeting an Aboriginal person for the first time (Clancy, a uni student and member of the Stolen Generation), new music and new ways of thinking. Sam and his new friends are opposed to the war in Vietnam and openly discuss it which is novel to May. Back in Nurrigul, May’s teacher Miss Berry tries to open her mind to new ways of thinking but that is cut short as May’s circumstances change. Can May make her own way in the world or will she let others make the decisions for her?
The story is from a time in Australia we haven’t heard much of to date, although the 1960s were a tumultuous time for change. Hello, Goodbye captures that flow of new ideas and how they jangle against the old ways. It was amazing to see how in the pre-internet and computer days how Melbourne and Nurrigul could be so different in their way of thinking and acceptability. Is it a country/city thing or a lack of connection that today we take for granted? May’s cousin Lucy stands out in the small town – she’s wild with her dress (short skirts!), she smokes, drinks and has a casual relationships. All these things kind of put her on the outer, especially with her mum displaying some ‘hippie’ (aka forward thinking) tendencies. Lucy was my favourite character – she’s blunt and happy go lucky but hides a good heart. But when something serious happens, Lucy’s quirks are put aside as May is the one who is ostracised.
Likewise in Nurrigul, the war in Vietnam is talked about in positive terms, despite the presence of James, a Vietnam vet and May’s father, who both have PTSD. May’s concerns against war are only spoken about with her Melbourne friends or her teacher. When Sam is called up for national service, his fear and hatred against war versus doing his duty make a decision difficult. Conscientiously object, go on the run or go to war? This is the time where demonstrations against the war were only just beginning and it’s a big choice to make.
Without trying to spoil one of the main parts of the plot, how young, single mothers are treated at this time are absolutely disgusting. A single mother had virtually no rights, with medical and nursing staff openly stating their distaste for the woman’s situation. She was treated as someone with no rights or feelings. The constant pressure to adopt the child was relentless and cold. This was one of the most emotional parts of the book for me, shocking in its cruelty. I really felt for the characters involved – even the most determined could give up under that kind of mistreatment.
Overall, Hello, Goodbye is a powerful debut that will both capture your heart and make you ponder the worth of Australia’s past decisions.