HERRICK, Steven Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain UQP, 2014 200pp $14.95 pbk ISBN 9780702250163 SCIS 1657961
Steven Herrick has nailed it again. This novel is a departure from Herrick’s verse format but the dry humour is still front and centre as eleven year old Jesse James Jones negotiates family and school life within the overtly ‘inclusive’ environment of Kawawill school. The voices of each chapter alternate between Jesse and his nemesis Hunter, the ‘class anarchist, law breaker and boy most likely to set the record for continuous detentions’. We shiver with recognition at the anxiety of turning up to school anticipating Hunter’s unwanted attention, and note the irony of the exasperating but well meaning teacher message of the day ‘kind words are easy to speak’. Jesse is easy to love. So too his family. However our growing warmth for school bully Hunter catches us more unawares. It is a tribute to Herrick’s skill that we begin to understand Hunter’s motives and develop empathy for him as well.
Jesse has deep and meaningful conversations with ‘Trevor’ the Christ figure in the poster on his bedroom wall but in the end saviour comes in the form of friendship and a growing relationship with the smart and perceptive Kate. Together they make a fair fist of solving the problems of the world or at least make a start with garnering support to protest against whaling. At the same time we have a sense that there is potential for all to end well with Hunter too.
Herrick has created a novel that is familiar and funny but also illuminating. The lasting satisfaction comes from a greater awareness of emotional intelligence and inclusive behaviour all developed ironically in a more authentic manner than through school rules and policy.
reviewed by Christine Oughtred