I love a good YA fiction that goes deep, and The Telegram by Philippa Werry certainly delivers. A young reader will enjoy the story of Beatrice cycling around her small kiwi town on her bike, changing from a schoolgirl to a young woman with the harrowing responsibility of delivering telegrams during the first world war. She makes and loses friends, delivers news of celebration and (more often) tragedy to families, writes letters as she waits for the boy next door to return from the front, and celebrates the war’s end just as the ‘flu rolls into town.
That’s a shallow zoom over the story top, but underneath for older readers there is the whole subtext of the telegrams and what they mean to the families who watch Beatrice pass their gate but pause down the road to check an address. There is a lot of history here, some coming home in letters that grow increasingly bleak, and some in the lists of the dead from Passchendaele to families already reeling from deaths in Gallipoli. Beatrice has lost her father in the South African war, a devastation overrun by the next conflict. Wars across the world reach deep into far-away New Zealand.
There are white feathers, conscious objectors, the walking wounded and the shell shocked, the gassed and the amputees. There is the casual belittlement of women, poverty, and the strength of communities in crisis. All part of our history.
Through all this cycles Beatrice, growing up bearing burdens no kid should carry. I love the way this story captures all this history without dwelling on the trauma but focusing instead, on the optimism of a bright young girl.
Good book. Give it to everyone.