Review Blog

Nov 11 2014

The year it all ended by Kirsty Murray

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Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319413
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. World War One, Spanish Flu, Returning soldiers, Adelaide. The day Tiney Flynn tuns seventeen, bells ring out over Adelaide to announce the end of World War One. Tiney and her sisters go into the city to join the celebrations, and there follows a six month hiatus as the world leaders negotiate peace. Soldiers are returning home, some damaged and many changed, Tiney's sister, Nette, marries a soldier who takes up soldier settler farm at Cobdogla in the Murraylands, Thea goes to Art School, while Tiney and Minna help prepare for a masked ball to celebrate peace. But the family is still subjected to prejudice because of their German heritage. During the day Tiney works at the Cheer-Up hut, where soldiers can find some companionship but Tiney begins to find this cheerless, as the long peace negotiations drag out. They are devastated when they learn that their son and brother, Louis has been killed in France within weeks of Armistace. Her father hides in his study putting together a scrapbook of their brother's life and Tiney has the idea that the family should somehow go to Europe to find their brother's grave bringing them some relief from their overwhelming grief.
In the background we see the girls coping with a changed world. Tiney's world becomes smaller as her sisters leave home, and is ecstatic when her aunt and uncle give her the money to accompany friends of the family in their search for their dead son's grave. Her dream has been realised.
The reality of war hits hard as she walks across battlefields with bodies being exhumed for reburial, discovers mass graves, bombed villages and people like her searching for their war dead.
This is a wonderfully astute look at the changing fortunes of young women at the end of the war, a time of change for them as well as society as a whole.
The story of Tiney and her sisters reflects many of these changes as Nette marries someone she really does not know, Minna escapes to Melbourne, to avoid the unwanted overtures of a returned soldier, and Thea goes to art school, where her friend, Seb commits suicide.
The determination of Tiney in bringing some sense to her family after their momentous loss, holds them together in a time of desperate need. And at the same time, Tiney develops as a person, going from a naive seventeen year old to a more politically aware, confident and assured young woman ready for the new world.
Amongst the many books about Australia's involvement in war, this is a standout. Not only a good story about one girl's development, but a harrowing look at the family at home, desperate for news about their son at war, while the thread of their German heritage, reminds the readers that Australia is a land of immigrants, with some treated in a manner which does us no credit.
A wonderful stand alone, this book could also be used in a literature circle, in which a number of books with war as their theme are presented to a class. Secondary students will find Tiney's story engrossing, and along the way learn a lot about war and its impact on those at home. Murray has skillfully incorporated historical detail into the story, making this a luminous addition to the genre of historical fiction.
Fran Knight

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