Anna Mackenzie’s book gives the reader an insight into WWI through the perspective of Evie, an 18-year-old New Zealander living in England. Shortly after her family arrives there for their tour of Europe, war breaks out and Evie is introduced to a whole new world. She experiences first-hand the horrors inflicted on the men, along with the heartbreak and stress of serving in hospitals – both on the front line and in England. Through Evie’s experiences during the four years, Mackenzie is able to highlight the expectations of Evie and her associates during the war. We see the traditional views that her family holds about Evie’s responsibilities and others’ views about her capabilities.
Evie struggles with her mother’s and aunt’s expectations that she will adopt the traditional role of a young woman, as she desires to contribute to the war effort. It becomes obvious throughout the book that these family figures’ opinions are unaffected by the call of war as they are not directly involved, unlike Evie and her uncle and brother. Evie is seen as a rather progressive character, but we see that she is still tangled up in old-fashioned ideas: “He is right that it is inappropriate to discuss details of the men’s injuries in front of ‘Our Women and Children.’ ” This was Evie’s response to her uncle scolding her for disclosing what she has seen and heard at the hospital.
This leads us to the question of how the war did affect people. We often see minor conflict between Evie and her mother, or Edmund and their mother. The siblings have seen first-hand the horrors of war, whilst their mother is separated from the direct impact of it. Mackenzie’s selection of characters represents a variety of war-time personalities; we have the nurse, the soldier, the mother, the father, the sweetheart and the commander. The spectrum of personalities helps the modern reader to become closer to the reality of war, a phenomenon which most of us are unfamiliar with. I found this book to be a very useful tool for expanding my understanding of WWI, as it helped me to connect to an event which is distant to me. It allowed me to explore an aspect of war which is not normally covered in literature (as most focus on the soldiers’ points of view), creating an impact on me as I could easily relate to Evie.
Mackenzie sets out Evie’s War in the format of a diary, allowing readers to gain an understanding of the timeline of WWI. She hints at significant dates and displays the misled hopes that the public had about it. An example of this is from the diary entry of August 4th 1915: “The War has lasted a year. All agree it cannot go on much longer.” Evie displays a common view that the war will not last long, but in reality it lasts until 1918. Another significant idea that Mackenzie pushes is that of New Zealand soldiers’ perception of war. I think that the author captures the social conventions of the early 1900s and includes the context of the historical event. The use of WWI is not as a background theme, but is fully intertwined with the story of Evie. I highly recommend this book to girls my age, as I think that we are the demographic who can relate the most to Evie. Though, this does not mean that people outside this demographic should feel discouraged from reading it. I take my imaginary hat off to Anna Mackenzie for creating a piece of literature which gives recognition to the women of the war and all of their effort.
Sarah Dickson is 17 years old and from Wellington. Read more reviews by young readers at www.hookedonbooks.org.nz.