Too often it feels as though we are quick to judge and swift to run the emerging generation down. Young people are misunderstood with claims that they are too self-obsessed, too lacking in vision, self-discipline or whatever. Steven Herrick’s latest novel “Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain,” challenges these perspectives. Instead, he chooses to present his audience with a world in which a handful of eleven-year-old kids, Hunter, Jesse and Kate, remind us of how awe-inspiringly brilliant young people can be. Jesse, the new boy, struggles to fit into his alternative school whilst trying to come to terms with the even bigger issues of World Hunger and Poverty. When he meets Kate, he realises that he is not alone in his concerns and together they set about ‘Saving the Whales’. However, in the meantime they must deal with Hunter, the school bully, whose systematic torture of them conceals his own very real pain.
Despite being officially labelled as “Children’s Fiction” this is a story that will be well received by students in later primary years and in the early years of high school. It is the kind of middle grade fiction that is so well written that teens will forgive the fact that the protagonists are only 11. It helps that Herrick refuses to dumb things down with inane humour, and likewise develops characters that are in no way babyish. “Bleakboy” explores a range of themes pertinent for this audience; including the impact and origin of bullying, the global issues facing humanity and the environment, the development of an individual belief system, alongside the impact of family breakdown upon young people.
A detailed investigation of this text would be effectively complemented with an exploration of protest song lyrics (Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, Pink’s Mr President, Bob Dylan’s Times They are a Changin). Students will no doubt appreciate the emerging discussions upon key themes that might culminate in class debates, action research tasks or expository writing.
This is a tale of sparkling optimism. Herrick, as always, demonstrates masterful control of prose and develops each character skilfully so that they stay with the reader long after the book is finished.
Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden
**UQP provided me with a free review copy for this book. I have otherwise not been paid for any review or endorsement of this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased view.***