Vietnam by Deborah Challinor
My Australian story series. Scholastic, 2015. ISBN
Highly recommended. This brilliantly crafted story is a realistic depiction of life in Australia in the late 1960s using authentic characters and historical events. Davey Walker is twelve years old and carefree, enjoying surfing every day on Newcastle beaches with his mates Pete and Johnno when his older brother Tom is selected for National Service. Davey records his and Tom's experiences over the next year in a series of diary entries.
It was delightful to read a captivating story which is historically accurate and which avoids judgement and slavish presentation of views more palatable to a modern perspective. There is however nothing inappropriate or unsuitable to an early teen readership in this book. The harsh truths of the war - death, physical and psychological injury, fear, even the My Lai massacre are all covered in a manner which presents the facts without glamour or unnecessary detail. Challinor deserves credit for crafting a robust, worthy story which includes a bewildering amount of historical information and accurate micro details which is suitable for the readership in terms of content and level of understanding.
I particularly liked that a range of authentic figures interplay to put forward points of view on the validity of conscription, the involvement of Australia in the war, the protest movement and international relations in exactly the way that people did at the time. I was thrilled to read the explanation of the origins of the conflict and Australia's role through the words of Davey, his school mates and a new teacher as they discussed the topic in a social studies class. A complex matter was summarised clearly for modern readers and the author is to be commended for not endorsing one point of view (with child characters parroting their parents' ideology) over another.
The story is so good because whilst the war is central to the narrative and important events like the Moon landing are included, it principally emphasises family relationships and friendship. Mateship is associated too frequently with the battlefield in Australian folklore and this novel emphasises the value of caring friendships in all walks of life in a profoundly moving way.