Steven Herrick is a really impressive Australian writer and his latest offering was very well received by both groups. We spent some time firstly discussing his other works and sharing our experiences of school visits with Steven and success from teaching his texts. We discussed Steven’s motivation for writing this novel in which he said,
I wrote this book because I believe it’s important to explore the complex and immediate problems that are facing humankind – starvation, loss of environment and social dislocation – for both young and old. The people who’ll have to address these issues in the future are the children of today. This story allowed me to explore how optimistic and thoughtful young people can ‘make a difference’ both at home and in other countries.
It was felt that he certainly achieved his aim in highlighting to children that each person can make a difference in his or her own small way; yet his style is humorous and never patronising. We also talked about what goes on in our own schools to address these more complex issues.
Humour is a very strong component of this novel. We all loved the ‘character’ of Trevor; such a clever device to illustrate a child’s search for meaning in a family that declares itself atheist. We also thought that Herrick uses humour to highlight that even communities with good intentions sometimes let down their members. It was pointed out that for all this school’s inclusive and politically correct policies; vegetarianism, democratic yearly election of the Principal, calling teachers by their first names and the like, they still seemed to have many of the same problems that are found in mainstream schooling.
Aside from the environmental focus we felt that this was a novel that was really about relationships. We noted that Hunter’s pain and anger at his father forms the basis of his negative behaviour. He lashes out at people as a defensive mechanism to cope with the hurt he feels at being abandoned. It is a very moving scene when Hunter angrily asserts that it is his father who should be on detention because what he has done is unforgivable. When Hunter takes his father’s clothes to the Salvos he is reconciling the fact that his father is not coming back to them; although from flashback scenes it does not appear that his father was ever fully engaged with him. As Les, who becomes an important ‘father-figure’ to Hunter states,
We miss what we don’t have, without being thankful for what we’ve got
thus reminding Hunter of the love he shares with his mum. It gives Hunter hope that he and his mum can together have a happy life.
Jesse and his dad share a loving relationship and we noted his father’s handling of the stolen credit card. The family’s method of dealing with this problem – eating yams for dinner every night to make a sacrifice for Kelifa – gave us some laughs whilst also conveying a powerful message. We also talked about how families do discuss these big issues around the family table: is it too easy just to give money to a charity? Is it meaningful if there is no sacrifice involved for the family? Many of us thought Jesse’s older sister provided some great comic moments with her teenage angst and attitude yet she is also a loved and supported member of the family. We also loved the passion that Kate exhibited in undertaking the ‘big’ issues of the world – many of you had taught personalities like Kate in the past – those children who are able to think outside of themselves and see the big picture but who can get carried away with their enthusiasm.
As usual Herrick has given us a novel in which we see that people are not always as they appear and that sometimes, it’s the little things people do that do make a difference.