In times of bushfires and billy buttons by Steven Herrick

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Steven Herrick never fails to write stories exploring complex issues that leave the reader feeling inspired. This is true of In times of bushfires and billy buttons. It describes the life of teenager, Ethan, whose parents are in jail, and whose hard-working aunt now cares for him. With a bushfire on the horizon and a new boy Joshua with a scar on his arm, Ethan and his friends Audrey and Biggsy have some difficult issues to face and big decisions to make.

The intriguing cover and title showing the flowers, yellow billy buttons and white flannel flowers against the red blaze of a bushfire immediately drew me to the book and the character and voice of Ethan kept me reading in one sitting. Ethan, a Year 11 student, had a very difficult early life with an abusive father and mother who never defended him. When his parents are sent to jail for drug dealing, his aunt Helen has looked after him. Helen’s loving nature is beautifully portrayed by Herrick, and Ethan is mature enough to see the contrast between her and his parents.

Ethan knows the signs of domestic violence and recognises them in Joshua. At times Ethan seems to take his life in his hands when he follows Joshua and spies on his home situation. Will Joshua’s violent father see him? And will Joshua be able to accept the friendship and help that Ethan and Biggsy offer him? With the threat of a bushfire hanging over the streets, climate change is also a topic that keeps the reader absorbed, while the blossoming romance between Audrey and Ethan is captivating.

Herrick covers confronting themes including domestic violence and climate change, but the novel is uplifting, and left me with the vision of the power of a bouquet of native flowers given at the right moment. It would make an ideal class novel or readers’ group novel. Teacher’s notes are available. Readers who enjoy this would also like How to repaint a life by Herrick and books by Scot Gardner, Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.

Themes: Coming of age, Domestic violence, Climate change, Bushfires.

Pat Pledger