Review Blog

Apr 30 2009

When the Hipchicks went to War by Pamela Rushby

cover image

Lothian, 2009. ISBN 978 0734410917
(Ages 14+) Using the medium of three young girls off to Vietnam to entertain the troops, Rushby presents an easily digested story of the Vietnam War and its impact on all concerned. Told through the youngest of the girls, Kathy, a sixteen year old apprentice hairdresser, we see her caught up in the times, the swinging sixties, wanting more out of life than setting perms for housewives. She goes along to an audition for dancers, and is dismayed to see the hundreds of girls just like her lining up. Another girl suggests that she, Kathy and a third girl present themselves as a trio, and they are immediately hired.
Once in Vietnam, they are quickly employed by the Americans to tour the hospitals and they see the war at first hand. Covered in protective gear, they ride in jeeps and helicopters of all shapes and sizes to the hospital tents where they entertain the sick, injured and dying. The impact on the girls is overwhelming, and Rushby's writing ensures that the reader will be just as moved. The journey the girls take from innocence to horror is riveting, and confronting. Kathy's brother is called up, her boyfriend and closest girlfriend back in Australia are involved in the anti Vietnam War rallies, they are followed by a journalist Jan, who writes about their experiences for the Women's Weekly and so on, all these experiences are real and add to the authenticity of the story.
Rushby shows the changing times incredibly well, the attitude to women, the protest movement, a shotgun marriage, the increasing disillusionment with the war; increasing use of drugs and so on, reminding me with immediacy of my uni days in the 1960's; the marches, the burning of call up papers, the TV footage of the wounded and dying, the self immolation of Buddhist priests, the imprisonment of conscientious objectors. The book is redolent with the changes that the Vietnam War and the sixties brought to the youth of Australia and will be an eye opener for astute mature readers from about year 9 and up.
Fran Knight

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