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.
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.