Emily Brewin – Hello, Goodbye (Literature Review)

Debut Australian author Emily Brewin delights with her historical coming of age novel, Hello, Goodbye.

It’s 1968 in Nurrigul, Victoria.  Good Catholic girls like seventeen-year-old May Callaghan aren’t expected to conquer the world. If you survive school, marry a hardworking man and raise a family, you’ve done enough. But May knows there’s more to life outside her small hometown, and a war in Vietnam. She dreams of being a part of something bigger.

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Hello, Goodbye is published by Allen & Unwin. Click here to get your copy from Dymocks.

When her boyfriend Sam leaves for Melbourne, May seizes the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what it might be like if she were to follow in his footsteps. But Carlton isn’t what she expected. It’s so much more.

There, people aren’t afraid to say and do what they like, to step outside the norm and face challenges head on. This is especially the case when it comes to opposing Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, something which May can relate to given the impact her father’s military efforts have on her family life. And at the forefront of it all are Sam’s housemates, Clancy and Ruby, both of whom seem worldlier than May could ever imagine.

Soon, she finds herself caught up in the chaos of these new surroundings. The culture, the social scene, and the politics. The desire to be a part of it is strong she begins to question her beliefs, and who she really is. But is her longing for adventure going to lead to more trouble than its worth?
Despite touching on the basics of the Vietnam War in school, I – like many Australians – was not overly familiar with Australia’s involvement in the conflict, and the impact the revolutionary change of the 1960s had on the nation as a whole. Hello, Goodbye introduced me to that, and it’s a scene as alluring in fiction as it was in real life.

In this novel, Brewin has created a world that is captivating, full of vibrant three-dimensional characters who seemingly take on a life of their own. Their story is powerful.

When writing on a topic that is as politically and historically charged as this one, it can be difficult not to get bogged down in the research. Even the best and most-loved historical authors can trip up occasionally by providing too much information, and subsequently, bombarding the reader with facts and figures. This was never the case with Hello, Goodbye. Brewin’s style is effortless – hypnotising even – as she leads us on a journey of what it was like to be a teenage girl growing up in the late sixties. A time when the world was full of promise as well as danger.

Hello, Goodbye is a fantastic novel by a great new writer. It’ll leave you breathless and stay with you long after the final page. I can’t wait to read more.

 

 

Roslyn Petelin – How Writing Works (Literature Review)

Despite recent cutbacks in the arts and entertainment field, Australia has a plethora of aspiring writers hoping to one day make their mark on the industry – either through a novel of their own, journalism, literary criticism or some other way. But the professional development workshops that can teach you how to break in can sometimes come at a heavy cost.

The only solution, therefore, is the self-help section of one’s local bookstore or library. But have you seen the sheer volume of “how-to” guides on the creative industries lately? Sure, there’s the ones everyone talks about, like Lynne Truss’s highly regarded Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, The Penguin Guide to Plain English by Harry Blamires or even How Not To Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark, but there’s also hundreds of others dedicated to specific styles of writing, such as script writing, copywriting and writing for children. Where’s a fledgling writer, professional or otherwise, to start?

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Buy your copy of “How Writing Works” by clicking here.

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Glenda Millard – The Stars at Oktober Bend (Literature Review)

Glenda Millard’s latest novel, The Stars at Oktober Bend is a unique and heartbreaking coming-of-age story that shines a light on the human psyche.

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Click here to get your copy of this book via Allen & Unwin.

In recent times, young adult fiction has received something of a bad rap for its cookie-cutter plots generally featuring a hot guy who, when he finally pays attention to the girl next door with whom he was friends as a child, instantly falls in love with her despite her gangly awkwardness. Add in a broody vampire taking a liking to the new girl in town and you’ve got the next paranormal cross-over.

That said, there are exceptions to this well-worn rule, which form a category all of their own, such as John Green’s much-loved The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and even Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. In their own right, each take on the ‘coming of age’ theme in their own special way, and that is what makes them so popular.

To look at, Australian author Glenda Millard’s YA novel, The Stars at Oktober Bend definitely falls in the latter category. But as you delve into the pages of this unique and memorable story, you will find something altogether different, a coming-of-age tale that stands on its own in terms of comparability – at least in my opinion.

“They sewed me up when I was twelve. Mended my broken head with fishbone stitches. Tucked my frayed edges in. Tucked everything in. Things meant to be and things not. Do it quick. Stop the flow. Stop life leaking out of Alice.” This is how The Stars at Oktober Bend begins and it is with those few words, said so plainly and yet so powerfully that this book hooked me and found a place in my heart for many years to come.

Alice Nightingale is twelve when she receives an acquired brain injury doctors believe to be so severe that her mental capacity will not be beyond the age she is at the time of the attack. The repercussions upon her family – her brother Joey and her grandmother, not to mention her often referred to yet barely present grandfather Charlie – are great and it is through Alice and because of Alice that they are outcasts in their small town of Oktober Bend.

Now fifteen years old and unable to attend school because of her ‘limitations’, Alice struggles in the prison that is now her home, fighting to be free of the prognosis the doctors have given her. This “twelve-ness”, as she refers to it. As a way to escape and prove she is capable of more than expected of her, she turns to poetry, crafting the words which have become vocally lost to her with beautiful and unexpected precision.

In an effort to make herself heard, she leaves these secret verses in public places for strangers to find – such as the nearby railway station – taking comfort in the thought that someone will understand her long held secret.

Manny James has secrets himself. He struggles to find his place in this new world in which he has wound up: this place that is so far from his war-torn home of Sierra Leone. Though only sixteen years old, he has seen atrocities and experienced tragedies his classmates would not even dream of and yet he must keep his left-behind identity from them in order to avoid persecution. He must blend in and survive. It’s all about survival and that is one thing that does not change no matter the environment.

Eventually these two misfits, social outcasts if you will, find their way to one another and through the other’s story, find a way to create one of their own. A beauty and understanding that looks beyond what others take at face value. That is what makes this book stand out from other coming of age stories, and in a league all of its own.

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There’s something magical about Millard’s prose as she weaves the tender tale of these two teenagers craving to be heard in a world of static and chaos. Her approach is careful as she takes on topics such as disability – one not often covered well in fiction, let alone novels of this genre – but she does not stray from confrontation, presenting readers with cold hard facts in a way that is subtle but at the same time not allowing them to be ignored.

The Stars at Oktober Bend was my first introduction to this multi award winning author – who has written a number of YA novels and children’s books – but it will by no means be the last. Magical and tender, tragic and terrifying, this book will take readers on a roller-coaster of emotions and a journey you will never forget.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally published by The Australia Times.]