An apocalyptic road trip brings two sisters together in Brendan Ritchie’s Eta Draconis.

Brendan Ritchie’s Eta Draconis is a grounded and heartfelt exploration of searching for a future in a world that feels like it has none.

Elora has just finished high school in her hometown of Esperance, Western Australia. Her older sister Vivienne, already attending university in the city, has been home for the summer holidays and they are driving back to the city together so Elora can start at university. But since they were young, the meteor Eta Draconis has been raining down upon the earth, showers filling the sky with lights and destroying homes, roads, and livelihoods with falling debris and shockwaves. It was also the catalyst for their family’s move from the city to Esperance in the first place, and when the bond between Elora and Vivienne began to wane.

Despite the danger, and their strained relationship, the sisters start out on their long road trip across the southernmost part of the state, a vast but sparsely-populated land full of small towns, dusty farms, and people who were already struggling before Draconis turned the world upside down. And in this world of random destruction, intermittent communication, and violent uncertainty, who is Elora to go to university and seek a future that may never eventuate? And how can she recover the connection with her sister, who lives as though Draconis never started falling, ploughing ahead into a future that only she can seem to see?

Elora is coming of age in a pressure cooker of fear, where no one is certain of anything. As she and Vivienne travel the bare highways and brown farmland from Esperance to Ravensthorpe to Lake Grace to Wagin, they witness the panicked flight of families from the city to the forest, the desert, the coast, as though being able to see the horizon will control the randomness of the universe. As their journey is delayed, detoured, and stripped of any certainty, Ritchie explores every difficult question that young adults cycle through when looking at different versions of their future.

Eta Draconis is a brilliantly-crafted, deeply-considered work that studies this immense, beautiful, lonely corner of the world through the eyes of someone on the cusp of the rest of their life. The story is deep and grounded, filled with unique insight into the terrifying process of leaving behind not just a childhood, but a hometown community, a way of life, and the comfort of the familiar, for something unknown and alienating, and having no sense of certainty that it is the right decision.

West Australian readers in particular will love this story, but it is also relevant to anyone who has felt uncertain about the future, or who has wandered the many lonely roads of the Great Southern and wondered what might lie at the end of them.

This review was first published on AU Review.

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