Black painted fingernails by Steven Herrick

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742374598.
(Age 15+) Highly recommended Steven Herrick's book, Black painted fingernails, makes a positive impression from the moment you first spy it with the intriguing, well-designed cover. I expected a verse novel but this offering is written in prose. Still, there is the same economical use of words that we find in his verse novels. The writing is beautifully crafted with strong descriptive language; it is perceptive, emotive and the words linger.
The story focuses on two main characters, James and Sophie. Each short chapter features a particular character - James, Sophie, James' mother Angela or James' father Michael. James is heading west for a temporary teaching position in the country leaving behind anxious parents, who have coddled him as their only child. Sophie has left a broken home, where she grew up with a loving father and two brothers in difficult circumstances at times. They have disparate personalities and lives, yet we come to like each of them as individuals and marvel at their developing relationship.
There is a keen sense of place in terms of micro and macro settings with specific geographical locations in Sydney and country NSW. Place names like Rose Bay and Hillston (central west) will be familiar to locals. And there are several 2011 touches to the story eg with references to iPod, voicemail.
Essentially this is a road trip novel with an innovative structure and a love story with a difference. The story moves along well and should appeal to a wide range of readers. There are some sexual and drug references. I would like to see the use of the conditional tense as appropriate, but this probably won't worry the target age group. It is suitable for senior secondary students Years 10 and up.
Margaret Strickland