Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Wolf by Steven Herrick

Ever since I can remember,
my dad has talked about the wolf.
From the age of five,
I'd sit beside him on the back step,
We'd look across the paddocks of sheep
into the forest shimmering in the afternoon heat,
the two of us sure the wolf would come
if we sat here long enough.

The Wolf tells the story of two teens, fifteen year old Jake Jackson and 16 year old Lucy Harding who are neighbours on opposite sides of the Wolli River in Australia. They spend a night together in the bush, attempting to locate a "wolf" they believe lives nearby.

The Wolf is a novel written in verse with a group of poems each forming a chapter. Herrick begins his novel by telling us first about Lucy and then about Jake, both of whom form the principal first person voices in the novel.The story is told in alternating points of view, with the occasional poem by Peter.

Both live on sheep farms in the valley, but their families couldn't be more different. Jake lives with his father and mother in a home filled with love and care. His father loves his mother and their family life is happy. Jake describes his mother cooking a roast to celebrate their wedding anniversary. He does things with his dad like help him build a hen house and the veranda on their house.

In contrast, Lucy's family, comprised of her parents and her younger brother, Peter, is dysfunctional. Her father is a mean, violent man, who drinks and who blames Lucy for any misfortune that befalls the family. He physically and emotionally abuses Lucy and she and her mother spend most of their time avoiding him.

The novel centers around the lore of a wolf sighting in Wolli Creek. Jake's father has told him about a wolf he saw at Wolli Creek when he was twenty years old. However, wolves aren't native to Australia, so Jake's dad isn't quite sure what he saw. Lucy saw her father beat one of their dogs several years ago. The dog broke free and escaped into the wild. When something begins killing their sheep, Lucy's father is convinced it is their dog who is now feral. Jake's father however, believes that it is a wolf who is killing the sheep on their farm.

When Jake tells Lucy that they believe there is a wolf nearby, she tells him that it is only a feral dog. However, Lucy tells Jake that she knows where the "wolf" hides and Jake agrees to accompany her on a bush walk to the top of Sheldon Mountain. Things don't quite go as planned however, and the two teens end up spending a night together on the mountain that forges a strong bond between them. It is also the catalyst for a good change in Lucy's life. In the end, Jake's kindness towards Lucy affirms her and leads her to discover that she is lovable. But also her night in the outback teaches Lucy that she is strong enough to face her father and that his power over her will pass on just as her Grandma said it would.

The Wolf is an intriguing and well written novel in verse, with a few twists and a satisfying ending. Herrick does a brilliant job contrasting Lucy's  relationship with her father with Jake's relationship with his father, often in back to back poems. Personally, I found the poems in Peter's voice unnecessary to the storyline. They should have been edited out.

Book Details:
The Wolf by Steven Herrick
Australia: Allen & Unwin 2006

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