The end of 1918 is nearing. Charlotte’s dad has returned from the war a broken man. His experiences are locked inside him. He is grumpy and resentful of everything. Charlotte cannot understand why he has changed so, nor can anyone else.
Life goes on the same as before for the rest of the family, but frustration at Dad’s unbearable attitude is added to their daily burden. Charlotte’s only confidant is Florence, her neighbour, best friend and daughter of the local GP.
Mum, a nurse, works night shift to feed her four children. A large part of the household chores fall on Charlotte alongside her studies. She dreams of becoming a nurse too. To learn something about her father’s condition and the medication he is taking, she secretly borrows some medical books from Florence. If people don’t tell me anything, then I shall have to find out for myself.
With a sharp mind and an interest in everything, Charlotte’s potential is recognised by the doctor. With permission for her to accompany him as helper on his rounds during school holidays, Charlotte is given more opportunity to learn.
It’s not until mum’s brother, Donald, comes home from overseas just before Christmas, that change occurs. Charlotte overhears dad and Donald discussing traumatic and sometimes gruesome details of war life. She at last understands why her dad is the way he is.
The New Year brings new challenges. An influenza pandemic has hit Melbourne and all the area is infected. On her home visits with the doctor, Charlotte is confronted with death for the first time, and poverty far beyond what she could have imagined. She is forced to disinfect before she goes home. Everyone must wear a mask.
When her sister dies, and the other two girls, Mum and Donald get infected, Charlotte is filled with fear. Will dad stand up at last in this do-or-die situation, and finally give his family the attention they need?
This reality took place one hundred years ago. Reading it is like hearing what is currently taking place in the world. There is little difference. But as all things that have gone before, this tragedy too, will pass.
Contagion is based on true happenings and is part of the brilliant My Australian Story series which opens the pages to our country’s history.
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Scholastic, $ 16.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2020
For ages: 9+
Type: Historical Fiction