A laugh-out-loud novel from award-winning author Steven Herrick
Some things are too big for a boy to solve. Jesse is an 11-year-old boy tackling many problems in life, especially fitting in to a new school. Luckily he meets Kate; she has curly black hair, braces, and an infectious smile. She wants to “Save the Whales” and needs Jesse’s help. But they haven’t counted on Hunter, the school bully, who appears to enjoy hurling insults at random. With Hunter’s catchphrase “Ha!” echoing through the school, something or someone has to give. But will it be Jesse? Kate? Or is there more to Hunter than everyone thinks? This book is an inspiring and funny story about the small gestures that can help to make the world a better place.
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|Publisher:||University of Queensland Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.46(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Steven Herrick is the author of 21 books for children and young adults, including Pookie Aleera Is Not My Boyfriend, which co-won the 2013 WA Premier’s Literary Award. His earlier books have twice won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and have also been short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards.
Read an Excerpt
Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain
By Steven Herrick
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2014 Steven Herrick
All rights reserved.
I look out the window. It's raining. Again. I press my face against the glass and breathe. The window fogs in the shape of a continent with more penguins than humans.
'Antarctica,' I whisper.
With my index finger, I draw an emperor penguin on the glass and step back to admire my artwork.
'That's a fairy penguin, not an emperor,' I murmur.
In the wardrobe, my choices for school are:
Black t-shirt and blue shorts?
Black pants and the shirt with the warrior queen fighting the dragon?
Overalls? What was mum thinking!
I select black pants and a plain black t-shirt. I hope it fits with my school uniform policy, which is, ' Wear whatever you like as long as it doesn't have negative images or advertising slogans'.
Is black negative? I put on white Dunlop Volleys, just in case.
Hanging on the wall above my bed is a poster of a long-haired bearded man standing in front of a religious cross. An orange-coloured aura radiates behind his head. In the foreground, a flock of worshippers kneel.
My parents don't like me having a religious idol on my wall. They tell me we're atheist, which sounds like someone with a sneezing disease. Dad says it means we don't worship false gods.
So, to make Mum and Dad happy, I call the dude on my wall, Trevor. At my old school, every Friday morning was devoted to learning about Trevor and his buddies. I went to the religious instruction class even though my parents gave me a letter saying I didn't have to go. I left the letter in the bottom of my backpack.
Trevor is my friend. I tell him my problems, of which there are many, and he listens and does something much better than my parents. He doesn't offer an opinion. He stands with his arms wide open, palms out, as if he's saying, 'Whatever you choose is fine'.
My name is Jesse James Jones. Call me Jesse. Don't call me triple j. I'm not a radio station, I'm an eleven-year-old boy.
Trevor looks down on me with understanding eyes. It's pretty tough going through life with a name that people make fun of. 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow —'
'Mum! Jesse's talking to himself again!' yells my sister Beth, from the next room.
'Jesse.' Mum's voice from the kitchen is reproachful, as though I've been caught doing something sinful.
Trevor's eyes plead with me to turn the other cheek.
'Easy for you to do, Trev. You've had lots of practice. Over two thousand years of understanding and tolerance.'
'Mum! Jesse has an imaginary friend!' Beth calls.
'And you never had a sister as annoying as mine. You were an only child,' I add.
Trevor looks as if he understands. I feel a presence in my room.
'Jesse,' the voice is soft and caring.
She stands in the doorway wearing a flowing linen dress with lots of beads around her neck and stacks of bracelets on her wrists and ankles. Her dark hair is tied back in a ponytail. In her hand, she holds a slice of watermelon.
'Jesse,' she says again.
'Jesse, you don't need an imaginary friend,' she glances toward Trevor.
'You've got us.'
Beth calls, 'Mum, have you stolen my yoga pants?'
Mum smiles and walks to Beth's room.
'Beth,' she says.
'They were here yesterday! They can't just —'
'We don't have ownership in this house, Beth. You know that. What's mine is yours and your's mine.'
This is code for Mum saying she had no clean clothes for her yoga class yesterday, so she took Beth's pants.
'I don't see Dad racing into Jesse's room to wear his shorts and t-shirt,' answers Beth.
'I don't mind if he does,' I venture.
'Shut up, Jesse.'
'Beth, we don't use such language in this house,' Mum's voice drips with patience.
'Fine. I'll walk outside and scream, "Shut up, Jesse",' Beth argues.
'You know what I mean, Beth. We're a,' Mum searches for the right word, 'a collective. We make decisions together. We share.'
I fear Mum and Dad haven't thought through this philosophy. Trevor and I can foresee the day Beth gets her driver's licence. She'll start demanding equal access to Mum's Volvo. Some serious readjustments will need to take place in the democracy of 12 Wellington Drive, Banksia.
Mum walks down the hallway into her bedroom and returns with the yoga pants. She tosses them into Beth's room without saying a word.
'They're dirty!' says Beth.
'They've been worn once.'
'No-one else at school has to share clothes with their mother,' says Beth. 'Crystal and Jade get to buy whatever they like at the shops.'
Beth's five best friends are Crystal, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Amber. If you have a rock for a name, you get to go to the shops whenever you like.
Beth can't go to the shops, as our family, the collective, has gardening duties every Saturday morning. I'm growing tomatoes from seeds. They're lined up on my bedroom window, waiting to grow. So far, one of the eleven pots has sprouted. Only it doesn't look like a seedling, more like fungus. Perhaps I've been watering them too much?
Beth is in charge of loose-leaf lettuce. She plants, she waters, she nourishes with Charlie Carp plant food, she pulls off dead leaves and she harvests. Mum tosses the lettuce leaves into a salad and, at dinner, she never fails to pat Beth on the wrist and say, 'We're eating the joys of Beth's labours'.
Beth has taken a vow of abstinence from all things green for the next few weeks. She says she wants to go on a black diet, which consists of Coca-Cola and charred meat.
Mum and Dad's gardening duties are the fruit trees and the watermelon patch. Dad's looking after the plum, pear and peach trees and Mum's tending the watermelon. Every morning, she feeds slices into the juicer, with ginger. She says it's good for blood pressure and circulation.
Dad's harvest hasn't been as successful. So far, we've eaten four plums which had a strange red-yellow flesh, but were tart and juicy. Beth pulled a face and threw her plum, half-eaten, into the bush next door. When Dad looked unhappy, Beth said she was making an offering to nature. Dad cheered up and suggested we all throw our seeds next door. I think he secretly hopes some more plum trees will grow. I saw a rat there yesterday, slinking around. I'm not sure a black rat is a native species, but he certainly looked well-fed.
'The least you can do is drive us to school,' Beth says. 'That way my pants won't get any dirtier walking.'
'Clothes don't just accumulate dirt from being worn, Beth.'
It's true. That's why I wear black. The kids at school are starting to think I'm an emo. When Hunter called me that on Friday, I thought he meant emu, so I corrected him.
'Emo the Emu!' yelled Hunter.
Not because it was funny, of course. Simply because it came from the mouth of Hunter Riley. I've only been at school for three months, but I soon learned that Hunter is the class anarchist, law-breaker and the boy most likely to set the record for continuous lunchtime detentions. I've heard rumours of Hunter being suspended twice last year. Skye Delaney said he'd been caught smashing the heads off sunflowers with a golf club. Anastasia O'Brien said Hunter had been suspended for shaving Mrs Tomkin's cat. Skye said she'd heard her mum talking about neighbours' garden hoses being tied around the exhausts of parked cars. Everyone keeps away from Hunter, just in case.
A few weeks ago, Hunter came to school with a new haircut which I secretly called the starving mullet: mohawk on top, long at the back and shaved around the sides. He looked like a nature strip on the Benson Freeway. I didn't say this aloud. Making fun of Hunter is forbidden, in fear of atomic wedgies and twisted arms. Strictly speaking, making fun of anyone at school is not allowed, but Hunter does what he likes. And what he likes is being rude.
I expect to arrive in class today to be greeted with calls of 'Emo the Emu'. Which is better than my last nickname 'Jesus Freak'. All because I happened to mention religious instruction classes at my previous school.
I tried to explain about Trevor, but it was a losing battle. Now I know how the Mormons feel, walking from door to door, trying to get everyone to enlist and start worshipping their imaginary friend; trying to convince the world that Mormonism is more fun than watching television or playing football or having barbecues or swimming at the beach.
Trevor doesn't try to convert anyone. He just hangs there, on my wall, listening.
Beth walks out of her bedroom wearing the slightly worn yoga pants and a halter-neck top. Her hair is dyed purple-black and sweeps across the front of her face. She wears silver rings on most of her fingers and has been contemplating a nose-ring, but she hasn't told Mum and Dad yet. She's waiting for the right moment.
'Beth, you can't go to school dressed like that,' says Mum.
'In dirty clothes?' Beth answers.
'In a revealing outfit like that,' says Mum. Her voice drops to a whisper,
'Your bra straps are showing.'
'The only thing I'm revealing is that my parents are too stingy to buy me new underwear.' Beth walks out the front door before Mum can answer.
Mum looks at me. 'Jesse, can you tell your sister I'm not driving her to school dressed like that.'
'She'll just walk, Mum.'
'Well, so be it,' Mum responds.
That means I'll have to walk as well. I'm not showing any underwear. I'm tempted to pull my pants down a little, homeboy style, to display my boxers, but think better of it.
'Sorry, Jesse,' says Mum. 'I can't be a party to my daughter dressing like a teenage girl.'
'She is a teenage girl, Mum.'
'Don't be silly, Jesse. She's fourteen.' She starts to juice another slice of watermelon, for her blood pressure.
I trudge out the front door and am pleased to see it's stopped raining. Beth is standing beside the passenger door of the beat-up Volvo. She looks at me, hopefully. I shake my head.
Beth calls out, 'Fascist!' to the closed front door.
I follow her out the gate and down Wellington Drive. The clouds gather over Benson Freeway in the distance.
'Why is she so stubborn?' says Beth.
'Do these pants look really worn?' asks Beth.
'They look great, sis.'
Beth smiles. 'You're okay, Jesse. For somebody who talks to himself.'
'I'm philosoph ... philsoph ... I like to think aloud,' I say.
'That's fine, as long as you don't start hearing voices and weird —'
'Trevor doesn't talk, I told you. He's a ...'
'Picture on the wall,' Beth suggests.
'Sounding board,' I counter.
'That's something Mum would say,' Beth grins.
'People talk to dogs and cats and horses and fish don't they?' Beth nods.
'And everyone knows animals can't understand. Not really,' I add.
'Are you calling Jesus Christ our Saviour your pet?' Beth asks.
'No!' I blush uncontrollably at the image of the Mormons, Catholics and Salvos all lining up in our front yard when I'm home alone to try to force me to change my evil ways.
'Everybody needs someone,' I mumble.
As if on cue, standing at the intersection ahead is Ryan Blake. Ryan wears really tight jeans, large black riding boots and a stripy t-shirt. He looks like a hipster Where's Wally.
Beth immediately quickens her step. I get the message and slow down. When Beth reaches Ryan he puts his arm around her shoulder. His hand is touching her bra strap. I look away, in case I send negative vibes back home to Mum. She might do herself an injury while juicing the watermelon.
I look back. Beth and Ryan are now holding hands.
I follow at a safe younger brother distance.
And talk to myself.CHAPTER 2
Hunter Riley looks out the window. It's raining. Again. He quietly slides the window open and leans as far out as he dares. Raindrops wet his hair, roll down his cheeks and drop from his chin onto the corrugated iron roof. He closes his eyes and shakes his head, like a dog under a sprinkler.
From a gum tree near the fence comes the cackle of a kookaburra. Hunter opens his eyes, startled. He spies the bird in the highest branch. The kookaburra ruffles the rainwater from its feathers and opens its beak wide, as if yawning.
'At least you don't have to go to school,' Hunter says.
The kookaburra tilts its head and looks down into the garden. Hunter follows its gaze. A lizard scurries under a rock to safety. Hunter looks back at the bird. Their eyes meet.
'Ha!' says Hunter.
The rain falls steadily. Water streaks down Hunter's cheeks but he keeps his head out the window. The bird swoops along the roof line past Hunter and flaps away to a distant gum tree.
Hunter hears footsteps outside his door. He retreats into the room and climbs back into bed, rubbing his hair on the sheet.
He sees the doorhandle turn and quickly closes his eyes.
The door creaks. Hunter keeps his eyes closed, but knows his mum has entered the room. Ever since his dad left, she comes and looks at him sleeping. A raindrop runs down his cheek. In the quiet of the morning, he's sure he can hear her sigh. He keeps very still until she walks out of the room and gently closes the door.
After dressing into his school clothes of blue pants and a red skater shirt, Hunter walks downstairs. He stands at the kitchen doorway spying his mum sitting at the table. She stares at a bowl full of apples, oranges and pears. One banana sits on top, smiley faced. An ant crawls along the skin of the banana. She reaches toward the insect and with one finger blocks the ant's progress. The insect stops, then tentatively moves toward her long fingernail. She smiles. The ant creeps onto her finger. She stands and walks to the back door, opening it quietly.
Hunter walks into the kitchen and watches his mum on the back verandah. She leans down to a row of pot plants and places her finger close to the leaf of a basil plant.
'Everyone likes basil,' Mrs Riley says to the ant. She sighs and looks up at the rain still falling.
Hunter switches on the kettle for his mum's morning cup of tea. He scoops two spoonfuls of tea-leaves into the pot and when the jug boils, carefully pours the water to just below the spout. Enough for two cups, just the way Mum likes it.
He walks to the cupboard for a bowl and spoon, plonks them on the table and sits, reaching for the Weet-Bix and milk.
'Good morning, Hunter,' his mum says as she enters the kitchen.
Hunter spoons half a Weet-Bix into his mouth. 'It's Monday, how can it be a good morning,' he mumbles, a dribble of milk running down his chin. He doesn't bother to wipe and it drips back into his bowl.
'But you like school, dear.'
'A boy should like school,' she adds.
'Thanks for the tea,' she says. She takes a sip.
Hunter finishes his cereal. He looks at the packet of Weet-Bix, considering. Instead of another helping, he picks up the bowl and carries it to the empty sink. He opens the fridge door and stares inside.
'I've packed your lunch box, Hunter. It's already in your bag.'
'Peanut butter?' he asks.
She nods. 'And an apple.'
Hunter closes the fridge door.
'Don't forget to clean your teeth,' she says.
'So you'll smell fresh.'
'I'm not kissing anyone!' he says.
'For dental hygiene, so your teeth won't fall out when you're old,' she says.
Hunter doesn't answer and walks back upstairs.
'Ha!' Mrs Riley says, to no-one in particular.CHAPTER 3
The five mudbrick buildings of Kawawill School nestle at the foot of a long bush track. Each of the buildings is painted a different shade of ochre. In the bush surrounding the school there are swings and cubbyhouses and a climbing gym. There is no sports oval. The only grass is in the central area between the buildings.
Students are dropped at the top of the hill by parents or buses and we wander four hundred metres down the track to the school grounds. At the end of the track is a sign with a 'Thought for the Day' handwritten on it.
This Monday morning, I'm standing in front of the sign. It reads:
Kind words are the easiest to speak.
A voice booms behind me, 'EMO!'
'Hi, Hunter,' I say, without bothering to turn around.
'Whoa! Emo the Emu has eyes in the back of his head.' Hunter slaps me on the shoulder. He reads the sign and then glances my way. 'That's bull. I can just as easily call you,' he looks at my clothes, 'the Black Assassin as I can call you Emo.'
'Or Jesse,' I suggest.
'Now why would I bother calling you by your real name, Darkman?'
'Hunter, you are an endless font of meaningless names,' I say.
Excerpted from Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick. Copyright © 2014 Steven Herrick. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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