Most schools have that tricky English class; usually around year 10, often dominated by a group of rather disengaged boys for whom reading shares the same affection as teeth-pulling or bed-making. Such a class presents a very real challenge, the lament of even the most dedicated educator. Steven Herrick, with his uncanny ability to speak to the hearts of our disengaged students provides a real option for such classes. As an added bonus he even delivers it in verse. “Yes!” I can almost hear you shout, all your prayers have been answered.
Written entirely in verse, Another Night in Mullet Town, is a novel investigating the world of teenagers Jonah and Manx. Living in the lakeside town of Turon, their lives are simple; hang out a little, fish a lot and expect to grow old living in one of the town’s dilapidated shacks. However, things are set to change. The Property Developers and Real Estate Agents have moved in, setting upon the process of transforming the town into a haven for Sydneysiders dreaming of an idyllic getaway. For Manx, son of the local servo owner, these new locals with their flashy houses, cars and cash are the antithesis of everything he despises; a direct challenge to his way of life.
Another Night in Mullet Town addresses a disenfranchised youth, who, bound by the ties of poverty, teeter on the verge of criminal activity. With themes that explore the tragedy of family dysfunction and breakdown, identity, the highs of first love, along with the desolation of a future devoid of hope; Herrick’s novel will hold great appeal with students in the senior years of secondary school. Used as a class text, teachers will embrace the opportunities to draw immediate parallels with other novels (SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon) or film (The Breakfast Club). A closer exploration of the novel’s verse structure will certainly yield strong opportunities for text production.
This is a deliciously woven tale told in tantalising language. A gift for educators, it will speak to the realities of many of Australia’s youth. Another Night in Mullet Town is a magnificent story for teens, and haters of Real Estate Agents, everywhere.
I am not often presented with verse-novels to review, and this is a shame since many teachers appreciate the opportunity to share them with students as a means to broaden their understanding of poetry and its relevance today. Certainly, Steven Herrick’s scintillating verse-novel Lonesome Howl is appreciated at my school by senior students and teachers alike, who relish his economical use of language and vivid description. Kathryn Apel’s verse-novel On Track addresses this same need albeit for a slightly younger audience.
Told in a switching narrative style, On Track tells the story of brothers Shaun and Toby. Shaun, the athletic and academically gifted older brother, finds learning and life effortless. Toby, on the other hand, is a struggler. Clumsy and awkward, his tussles, both kinaesthetically and academically, place him at a huge social disadvantage at school. Unlike his brother, whose attitude towards life and personal experience suggest that he has no reason to expect failure, Toby experiences lowered self-esteem. His diagnosis with Dyspraxia, a learning disability that impedes gross and fine motor skills, means that he becomes the recipient of a series of accommodations to assist his learning; a computer and the provision of special coaching in athletics, specifically running.
From the outset, Apel’s novel, with its strong emphasis upon sport, is guaranteed to hold strong appeal with boys in the middle years from grades 6-9. The frugal use of language (and ultimately length) will ensure that text it is an accessible choice for class and individual study. Thematically, the investigation of disability, difference and the necessary requirement for curriculum differentiation, provides an appropriate segue into a broader discussion of disability and disadvantage in society. Similarly, students will relate to other themes that include sibling rivalry, the pursuit of sporting excellence and, related to this, the struggle against self-doubt. The novel will pair quite well with other novels with the theme of sport, Cath Crowley’s The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain, or, for a closer focus on the theme of disability, Wonder by R.J Palacio, or Cecily Anne Paterson’s Invisible.
Fast Track is a highly immersive and fast paced verse novel that is guaranteed to have middle-school students cheering as they turn each page.
Tanya Grech Welden