In Love, Ghosts & Facial Hair, the first of these two tender free-verse books, Jack, an aspiring writer growing up in western Australia, and his family finally cope with the death of his long-dead mother. In its sequel, Jack and girlfriend Annabel trade university for a road trip, ending up only "a few hundred kilometres down the road" working for an apple farmer and getting enmeshed in the farm family's hardships. Writing from multiple perspectives and with sentimentality tempered by humor, Australian author Herrick produces complicated characterizations and communicates warmth. In Love, Jack recounts a story his sister told him of his mother getting her cancer diagnosis ("that day was the middle of a heatwave/ but she shivered/ as she stepped from the surgery/ and saw Dad waiting in the car/ and both of us/ waving from the back seat./ she knew/ the doctor, the heatwave/ or this death/ couldn't touch her"). Off-topic poems in the first book, about a new teacher, or Annabel's poetry assignment, detract slightly, and Place may feel a bit saturated in problems (not only has the farmer's wife abandoned the family, but the oldest daughter is pregnant after a rape). On balance, however, poems about Jack and his dad trying to tear down an old playhouse in Love, or Emma making promises to her unborn child in Place ("and I touch my stomach/ and I whisper,/ `I won't ever leave you/ I won't ever...' ") provide lasting and believable images. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair introduces Jack, his older sister Desiree, and his widowed father. Jack is desperately trying to figure out life, love, and Annabel Browning. "I'm a normal guy. An average sixteen-year-old. I think about sex, sport, and, nose hair. Sex mostly . . . Desiree! She'll tell me." He has a great relationship with Desiree; at nineteen she seems to have it all together. Mum died of cancer seven years ago, but Jack and Dad are still trying to figure out how to let go of her ghost, not quite ready to move on. The love of Jack's life is Annabel; their relationship progresses smoothly from a tentative, initial-signed valentine through a nervous first date, to physical intimacy: "And I'm thinking as our bodies meet that I'll remember this forever and I just hope it's for all the right reasons." A Place Like This follows Jack and Annabel as they take a year off from university to wander. The road takes them to the orchard, picking apples for George and befriending his daughter Emma, who is pregnant at sixteen after being raped at a drunken school party. Stoic acceptance, not bitterness, governs this family. Annabel and Jack pick apples and make love in the hay, relishing the rhythm of farm life and the camaraderie. Life, like Jack and Annabel, moves on after the harvest. Herrick, one of Australia's most popular poets, crafts two slim free-verse novels to delve intimately into Jack's life. The spare poetry distills the strong emotions of loss, first love, and first sex. Teen readers will easily identify with Jack because his longings are universal. This reviewer has one caveat: Protected sex is mentioned only once in Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair, and not atall in A Place Like This, yet sex is a strong theme in both books. VOYA Codes 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Simon Pulse/S & S, 128p., Trade pb. Ages 15 to 18.
Gr 8 Up-Teenaged Jack thinks about sex (a lot), love, Annabel (sex again), nose hair, and his mother, who died of cancer and whose ghost haunts him. His memories-weekend trips with his father and sister, a photo of his mother, science class-are well drawn in first-person free verse. Most of the poems are narrated by the 16-year-old, with some selections by his father or sister. The switch is quick, without warning, and some readers might not realize that the voice has changed. By the end of the book, through numerous growth experiences and a burgeoning relationship with Annabel, Jack is ready to "tell the ghost no more visits/It's not that I don't need her/or want her to stay,/I'm just too old to believe in it anymore-." He's come to terms with the past, ready to face the uncertain future, stronger. In A Place Like This, also written in free verse, Jack, now 18, and Annabel have decided to put off going to university and set out on their own. They enjoy one another, sex, and their freedom. Life leads them to a job at an apple orchard, where Jack realizes, "This is not what I planned./I wanted lonely beaches with Annabel/and bush camping beside a river-." Instead, the two pick apples for 10 hours a day, sleep in a shed, and get entangled with their employer's pregnant daughter. Jack is drawn to help Emma because of a secret in his past. The story is tied up a bit quickly, and not entirely satisfactorily, but readers remain confident that Jack will survive wherever life takes him, and Annabel, next.-Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.