Title: Eventual Poppy Day
Author: Libby Hathorn
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Angus&Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins
Published: 23rd February, 2015
Synopsis: Shooting stars, kisses, grenades and the lumbering tanks. And the shrieking skies and the shaking comrades: ‘Up and over, lads!’ And I know it is time again to go into madness.
It is 1915 and eighteen-year-old Maurice Roche is serving in the Great War. A century later, Maurice’s great-great nephew, eighteen-year-old Oliver, is fighting his own war – against himself.
When Oliver is given Maurice’s war diary, he has little interest in its contents – except for Maurice’s sketches throughout, which are intriguing to Oliver who is also a talented artist.
As he reads more of the diary though, Oliver discovers that, despite living in different times, there are other similarities between them: doubts, heartbreak, loyalty, and the courage to face the darkest of times.
From award-winning children’s and YA author Libby Hathorn comes a moving, timely and very personal book examining the nature of valour, the power of family and the endurance of love.
This is a story we should never forget.
Like most young men in 1914, Maurice de la Roche signs up to go to a faraway war in Europe that has not yet touched the shores of Australia, but that will soon become part of the history and national identity of the recently Federated nation. As his family reluctantly watches him and his brothers leave, they face an uncertainty about their son’s futures. One hundred years later, Maurice’s great-great-nephew, the great-grandson of his much younger sister, Dorothy, is struggling with life, with family, friends, school and finding his way in the world, wishing to take art classes in school. At home, he is trying to help his younger sister Poppy speak again after a devastating illness following the departure of their father. But it is the story of Maurice that makes up the bulk of the story, and the diary entries that Oliver is reading brought to life in flashbacks to various points in the war: Gallipoli, Poziéres, and other battlefields throughout France, and Maurice’s knack for art, so similar to Oliver’s, that make up the bulk of the narrative, with significant events in Oliver’s life occurring at the beginning, middle and end of the novel.
Eventual Poppy Day respectfully and emotively evokes the battlefields and events of World War One, or The Great War, and The War to End All Wars would culminate in what would become known as Remembrance Day, where poppies are worn and placed in the Honour Rolls that commemorate every Australian military member who has died in service to their country. In a heartbreaking story that draws on family history, and one of the first major wars that would come to shape our national identity and the Anzac legend, Libby Hathorn has created a story that reminds us that we are all human, all fallible and not immune to history or the dangers of the world.
Marketed as a Young Adult novel, I feel that Eventual Poppy Day can be read by anyone, and I did enjoy that Oliver’s love for his family, for his sister Poppy, was the most important love for him on his journey. It is always refreshing to read a book, whatever the target audience, where love of family and friends is part of the story, rather than romantic love. To me, it feels like it strengthens the story, and enhances the characters and their motivations, and shows that there are more ways to love and care for someone beyond romance and are kinds of love I feel are being written about more and this is a good thing to show the spectrum of love across a variety of books and genres, especially when woven throughout the plot.
Another stand-out theme was the patriotic way the ANZACS embrace their mateship in the trenches of Gallipoli and across the Western Front. The way Libby has written about these experiences is so well written, it is as though you are there, experiencing it with the characters, with Maurice and those he served with. In the author’s note, Libby says that this book was inspired by her own relative, also named Maurice, and further research done with the Australian War Memorial and other resources about the ANZACS and World War One. I felt this theme running throughout evoked a sense of what it must have been like being so far from home and caught up in a war that wasn’t ours, but that threatened Britain, a nation that at the time, most Australians still felt strong ties to.
Through reading Maurice’s diary, Oliver’s personal growth shines through in his chapters, and it is a journey he has to take, to find out what he really wants and to help his little sister, Poppy. It is the kind of novel that many will hopefully enjoy reading and that honours the soldiers of World War One, as seen through the eyes of a teenager, trying to find his place in an ever-changing world. I have adored Libby Hathorn since reading Thunderwith in year six, and I am glad to have stumbled upon this novel.