BOOK REVIEW: Black Painted Fingernails (Steven Herrick, A&U)

Steven Herrick is probably best known for his poetry, but he has recently ventured into prose and this YA novel is a quiet and understated sample of his craft. Its protagonist is James, an amiable but socially awkward student teacher about to begin his first teaching rounds in a country town. Barely has he started the trip in his gleaming BMW (a gift from his parents) when he comes across Sophie—she with the long hair, perfect skin and black painted fingernails of the title. Though James is averse to small talk, Sophie is a determined hitchhiker and soon enough the two of them embark on the journey together. Literally and metaphorically James’ life takes a detour when he and the brashly attractive Sophie become tentative friends who begin to swap secrets. This is a gentle book about the usual stresses of early adult life: career, family and love and how fate conspires to bring together two lost souls. Though they come from different socio-economic backgrounds and grew up in stable and broken families respectively, James and Sophie find in each other a kindred spirit. The sense of hope and possibility within the novel makes it a rewarding read for those on the cusp of adolescence.

Thuy On is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and reviewer. This review first appeared in the May issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

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