Lonesome Howl

by Steven Herrick

Published by Allen and Unwin

228 pages, 2006




A Cry In the Dark

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


Let's face it, if you want to get your poetry published nowadays, you usually have to self-publish. If you're very lucky, you might sell something on the 'Net, but the online "paying market" (usually in kind) is mostly aimed at children and teenagers, as is the competition circuit. Eventually they, too, have to self-publish.

In this sad situation, it is a pleasure to know that some poets are still managing to get someone to pay them -- in this case, Australian publisher Allen and Unwin. Steven Herrick has managed to become one of Australia's leading writers of novels for young adults -- and to make you wonder, when reading them, why all novels aren't in verse. Teenagers like Herrick's books because not only do they concern teen issues, but they are easy to read, gentle and positive.

Can a verse novel work? Well, yes. The story can be told from the viewpoint of more than one character without jarring as it might if it were written in prose. Steven Herrick's verse novels just wouldn't work in prose. They're tightly written and don't need all the extra detail of a story told in prose. It's amazing how much storyline and character development can be fitted into a well-written verse novel.

Lonesome Howl tells the story of Lucy and Jake, two teenagers living in the same rural area of Australia. Wolves are not a part of the Australian landscape, but Jake's father believes firmly in the existence of a wolf in the bush near their home. Jake wants to go in search of the wolf, to prove or disprove his father's belief. Lucy wants to escape from her own father, who has been abusive to herself and her mother. Although she believes the "wolf" is only a feral sheepdog, she offers to show Jake where the wolf might be, as a chance to run away from home.

Is the animal out there a wolf or is it just the feral dog Lucy believes it is? In the end, it doesn't matter. It's what the wolf means to each of the characters that is important. The trek to the mountain where the wolf might or might not be lurking tells Jake and Lucy something about themselves and each other. It gives Lucy the courage to stand up to her father -- and her mother also finds courage while they are absent.

Like Herrick's other novels, this one is about family. Jake's family is close and loving. Lucy still misses her grandmother, with whom she had a close relationship. She has not been close with her younger bother, Peter, who seems to be more like their father than like herself and who certainly gets on better with him than she does. She finds her mother's unwillingness to do anything that might start an argument frustrating. However, possibilities open up for her relationship with her mother and brother at the end of the novel and for a family closeness she hasn't known since her grandmother's death.

Unlike other novels by Herrick that I have read, Lonesome Howl doesn't include anything from the adult viewpoint. We never find out exactly how Lucy's oppressed mother feels, except from Lucy's viewpoint. Nor do we discover what is going on in her father's head. The solution to their troubles, in the end, seems just a little simple.

This novel will probably appeal to most teens who have their own family issues, boys and girls alike. | October 2006


Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.