Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell

Rose didn’t tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different.

Rose and Michael are good kids. They work hard at school, are popular, and do what their parents tell them. But they are in love, and not as careful as they should be, and soon Rose is pregnant. The problem is, she is having trouble admitting it, even to herself. Michael struggles with the reality, too, and events spiral beyond his control. What happens is utterly devastating.

A Small Madness confronts the issues surrounding teen pregnancy in a way that will shock readers to the core. This is not a happy ever after story by any stretch of the imagination, but is absorbing and feels very real, exploring the possibilities of what can happen when teens feel shut off from support. Touchell does not try to cover all eventualities or to demonstrate how such a situation can be ‘fixed’, but the book will hopefully leave readers pondering how things can be, and the importance of finding ways through terrible situations.

An important, haunting, breathtaking book.

 

A Small Madness

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760110789

Available from good bookstores and online.

Cinnamon Rain, by Emma Cameron

A cave on Pebble Beach,
a bike ride from home,
where the sting of salt air
tears away the built-up wondering
of what to do –
on the last day of holidays,
about Casey,
with my life.

Luke is drifting through the final years of high school, unsure of where he’s heading< he works at the local supermarket to save up money, but doesn’t really know what he wants to do after school. The only thing he is sure of is his feelings for Casey. His mate Bongo is drifting too, but in a different way. He’s often drifting in a dope-filled haze as he struggles to see a way forward. He has a violent stepdad and an addicted mother, as well as a little brother who’s been taken away by welfare, meaning Bongo hardly gets to see him. He likes Casey too, but isn’t sure he has anything to offer her. Casey meanwhile, is stuck, unsure what she wants but pretty sure of what she doesn’t want: to be in this town, being told everything she can and can’t do by her controlling father. She wants to move on and be free, and neither boy can have a place in those plans.

Cinnamon Rain is a verse novel which packs a punch. The story is told from the first person viewpoint of each of the three characters in turn – so that we first hear from Luke, then Casey and finally Bongo. While in places the story overlaps so that we get two versions of the same event, the result is cumulative rather than repetitive, and the time lines of each narrative stretch differently so that we come in and leave at different times, meaning that in each section we get more of the total story, with the three stories, and characters, coming together in the final pages. This differs from the more common use of alternating viewpoints in multi-viewpoint novels, and works well.

Dealing with a range of issues which confront both the viewpoint characters and their other schoolmates, including drug and alcohol use, family breakdown, reckless driving, death and bereavement, teen pregnancy and more, the story could have become issue-heavy, but Cameron handles it skilfully, using the verse from to deftly weave together the different elements.

Beautiful.

 

Cinnamon Rain

Cinnamon Rain, by Emma Cameron
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 9781921720451

Available from good bookstores and online .

Crashing Down, by Kate McCaffrey

She’s sitting under a tree, knees pulled up to her chest, waiting for her mum. All she can imagine is Carl and JD in the car. She cringes and tries to make the images disappear, but they won’t. She imagines Carl and JD in hospital beds. A broken neck – that doesn’t necessarily mean paralysis; she’s sure she’s heard of people who have broken their necks and totally recovered. And what’s a coma anyway – isn’t that just sleeping? Don’t people usually wake after a little while?

The end of year 12 is drawing close, and Lucy can sense change coming. It’s time to knuckle down and study hard, to make sure she does well. She has plans for after school, too. Perhaps she doesn’t need to be a serious relationship with Carl, especially when he seems to smother her – except for the night of the formal when he ignores her. Breaking up with someone can be difficult, but for Lucy, it’s very very complicated.

Crashing Down is a gripping tale of consequences, life choices and growing up the hard way. Like any seventeen year old school leaver, Lucy has hopes and dreams, but she also has some pretty hefty decisions to make, and after her boyfriend is injured in a car accident, and she realises she is pregnant, those decisions are pretty weighty.

McCaffrey doesn’t shy away from putting her characters in difficult situations, and Lucy’s situation is one which would challenge any teen – or adult. But the chain of events which follows is both plausible and thought provoking.

Suitable for older teens.

Crashing Down, by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Press, 2014
ISBN 9781922089854

Available from good bookstores or online.