Steven Herrick, Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair, University of Queensland Press, 3 Jan 2017, 115pp., $19.95 (pbk), ISBN: 9780702228780
Steven Herrick, A Place Like This, University of Queensland Press, 3 Jan 2017, 137pp., $19.95 (pbk) ISBN: 9780702229848
Steven Herrick is Australia’s most well-known, well published, most widely performed, and probably our best, YA verse novelist. His audience is anywhere from thirteen to eighteen. He knows instinctively that if you are going to write for this age group you can’t afford to be inauthentic, or in any manner a finger-pointing adult. His novels are funny and serious, bubbling along with intelligence and lively awareness of what it means to be (suddenly) a teenager.
In Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair, Jack lives through a year in the Blue Mountains that takes him from sixteen to seventeen. Along the way he reflects on the loss of his mother from cancer seven years before, coming to terms with those visits she makes as a ghost to their house. He watches his father drink too much then make an attempt to go out on dates. His older sister is a voice of reason and wisdom in his life. He is lucky to have a sister like Desiree, or Des as he calls her. Mostly though he spends the year learning about sex. At first he listens to what little Des will tell him, later he talks with a teacher, and in between he becomes a lover with Annabel Browning. They teach each other a lot, with many very funny family anecdotes along the way. Towards the end of this episodic novel, Annabel observes,
A Place Like This takes up the story of Jack and Annabel a year into their arts degrees at university. They chuck it in, Jack buys an old car, and they go off on a road trip that takes them to an apple farm where they’ve run out of money and petrol. They work on the farm, live in a shed, make love on hay bales, and learn about the difficulties of a family whose mother has walked out on them, with the eldest girl pregnant to a boy who raped her when she was too drunk to know what was happening, or even what boy it was. They grow strong bonds with farmer George’s family. They must learn how to be with each other, and how to be with this family, then they must understand when it might be time for them to go. It isn’t easy. This novel is a paean to the endurance of people who have very little and must rely on each other. A heartfelt read. Both books are recommended for voracious readers from twelve to seventeen.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy