When I went to Vietnam, I packed a suitcase full of satin bikinis trimmed with fringes. A pair of knee-high white boots. Mini-dresses, ultra short, sparkling with spangles. A platinum-blonde wig. False eyelashes like hairy back caterpillars. Tap Shoes. Heaps of Max Factor make-up.
I was sixteen years old, and I was going to a war.
I didn’t have a clue.
Kathleen is sixteen. She thinks she’s got it sorted. It’s the swinging 60’s and the world is exciting. She is bright but sick of school, ready for the next stage of her life. And as one of eight children in the family, Kathleen is fairly practised at getting what she wants too. Her best friend introduces her to the Folk Centre and she enjoys the music without listening too closely to the words or paying much attention to the Vietnam War protest plans. She gets a job at The Cave where the music is more upbeat and the patrons watch her dance. A hairdressing job is abandoned when she scores an opportunity to travel to Vietnam to dance and sing for the troops. Her friend Cheryl is horrified, but Kath has little interest in and less knowledge about the war, seeing only excitement. But reality is quick to shake her. While protesters at home shake their placards, Kathleen discovers the realities of war.
The title, When the Hipchicks went to War, manages to immediately locate this novel in time and mood – the frivolity of ‘Hipchicks’ sitting alongside ‘War’ alerts readers to a conflict before the opening page is turned. Kathleen is keen to ditch school and get out into the wide, wild world, never imagining it as anything other than exciting and wonderful. She and two new friends become the ‘Hipchicks’ and are booked to entertain the Australian troops in Vietnam. When they arrive the Vietnam War is in full swing, but it’s not the party they expect. They must quickly adjust to war and its casualties. The show must go on. Naïve she may be, but as a main character she is also feisty, proactive and adaptable. Written in first person, When the Hipchicks Went to War follows Kathleen as she makes and loses friends, tastes the world and her first kiss, seizes every opportunity. Pamela Rushby gives the reader a different look at the 1960s – the freedom and conscription, opportunities and challenges. Recommended for 13-16 year olds.
When the Hipchicks Went to War, Pamela Rushby
Lothian Books 2009
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