Book Review: “Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair” and “A Place Like This” by Steven Herrick (2017), University of Queensland Press
Steven Herrick is a dead-set legend. Seriously; if writing awesome books for adolescents was grounds for canonisation, he’d be a living Saint.
Okay, so that is a bit of a stretch; but Herrick is all about the stuff that We English teachers dream about. Appealing characters and themes that resonate with teens; check. Language that oozes with all the delectability of the purest honey; check. Settings that are uniquely, and refreshingly, Australian; yes please. Add to this that the man does it in verse (although his prose is particularly splendid also). Excuse me while I swoon; I may be in urgent need of a Bex and a lie down.
I came to the magic that is Steven Herrick somewhat recently; jumping on board in 2011 with the release of his novel Black Painted Fingernails. Having now officially surrendered to his spell, I welcomed the chance to read a reissue of a couple of his older books. Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair and its sequel A Place Like This, were originally released in 1996 and 1998 respectively. Examining the story of Jack and Annabel, both stories, told completely in verse, remain as fresh as if they were only written last week.
As with many of Herrick’s stories, both novels explore the experiences of youth set against the unique backdrop of Australia (be it in suburbia or in the bush). While primarily ‘coming of age’ tales, both travel the somewhat clumsy, often giddy, joy that is first love. Herrick’s world is one where the ride through adolescence collides head-on with reality. His characters are insecure, frequently searching and battle with a world that has often dealt them a hand that is unfair. For Jack, this reality is one where he must reconcile his own ghosts and the grief associated with losing his mother to cancer. It is a place where Annabel must define her own future, even though doing so may cause conflict with the future her parents (and Jack) have envisioned for her. Finally, there is Emma; sixteen and pregnant, she must come to terms with her life, that of her unborn child and the unfairness of a single night that changed everything. You see, while humour is a tool that Herrick employs with great finesse; beneath this is a gritty world that is unfair and filled with characters whose hearts ache with pain certain to resonate with its audience.
Both Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, are beautifully crafted using the sparse descriptive language now synonymous with Herrick. The stories will have broad appeal with older adolescents and will sit well in the English curriculum from year 10 upwards. As with most of Herrick’s verse novels, these stories are as accessible as they are engaging. While suitable for use with accelerated English students, they will be deeply appreciated by less reluctant readers in the senior years.
Tanya Grech Welden