I remember ‘After January’ so fondly. Back then I thought the author was a new voice in the world of YA literature. It was a voice full of sunshine and zest from up in Mangoland to warm us all down here on an island much closer to the southern pole. Of all the hundreds of books I purchased in that year of 1996 for my school library, I chose to read that. Impossible to read them all, so there must have been something, perhaps on the back blurb, that attracted me to this new writer on the block – but I’ve been in Nick Earls’ thrall ever since. I’ve devoured every example of his word-smithery ever since.
Now Earls has successfully graduated to writing for adults as well. Graduated? That may imply that with the older the age-group as intended audience, the greater the skill set required. I prefer to think it operates in reverse. Not easy these days to engage with the younger brigade – but he does – and does it so well.
With ‘New Boy’, Earls is aiming at the late primary/early high school years – and he has produced a complete charmer. All the fun in it gave me much happy lol-ling.
It’s partly based on Earls’ own experiences as, recently arrived from Northern Ireland as a kid, he’s thrust into the hurl-burly world of an Australian school. There is the shock of the new for him, as well as for his classmates whom, he hopes, he’ll eventually get a handle on.
And it’s much the same with Herschelle in his book – with a name like that, even though it’s shared by a champion Protea cricketer (he’s from South Africa), he’s behind the eight ball from the get-go.
He was one of the cool kids back in Cape Town, but at this new place he’s grouped with the nerds – because he can only find a library habitue to befriend. Teachers and librarians all know these guys – invariably lovely students, but ones who also find the rough and tumble of the playground an alien experience. And Max is no exception – Earls has a most attractive character in this creation. He takes Herschelle under his wing – but soon his loyalty is sorely tested. You guessed it – there’s a bully involved.
Before he enrolled our pre-teen hero was quite gung-ho about going to school in Oz. He’d been on-line to a site detailing the subtleties of the lingo, as it’s spoken Down Under, to ensure he’d be hip. What could possibly go wrong then? Well the answer is plenty – ensuring a truckload of confusion and mirth. A kaffir lime causes all manner of outrage from the new arrivals to our shores. He resolves to rid himself of all Afrikaans-speak to become more at one with the locals – with mixed results.
Earls pushes the ‘difference’ angle for all he’s worth. The resolution of a few of scenarios the author conjures are hardly realistic in the world of teaching. This would all be over the head of the target audience so it matters little, doing little to detract from the sheer joy of the offering.
In my last years as a pedagogue I taught the age group the author has no doubt already entranced with ‘New Boy’. I know for a fact that I’d be ordering it in as a class set. It contains so many issues that one would initiate a teaching programme around – but the book never gets far away from just telling a terrific yarn to place a smile on the dials of young and old. Who knew that being asked to bring a plate along to a barbie would cause so much consternation for Herschelle’s mum – and the author’s?
Author’s website = https://nickearls.wordpress.com/