The Worlds of Harriet Henderson
by Steve Shann
Pub Date 26 Mar 2019
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This is a coming-of-age novel, set in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne and in the English classroom of a local high school. It is, as one reviewer put it, “a story about a teacher, two students and a grandfather looking for places where openness can live, at least for a little while, in an adult world of closures.”
The story is told from multiple perspectives about intersecting worlds. As a second reviewer has written, “It’s a story that has all sorts of stories inside it. It’s a book in which worlds overlap, collide and intersect, and where truth is complex. Yet the book is full of hope.”
For the eleven years since the death of her parents, fifteen-year old Harriet Henderson and her grandfather Max have made their home into something of a haven. But Harriet is no longer a little girl. There are changes, inevitable changes, changes that her grandfather finds himself resisting.
Harriet – thoughtful and free-spirited – is restless. School, up until now, has been dull. But there’s a new English teacher, Molly McInness, who encourages Harriet to see herself as a writer. And for Molly herself, there's nothing more satisfying than having a student like Harriet Henderson. This promises to be a special relationship for both of them.
But not everyone shares their excitement.
Zeph, the boy who in the dark of night paints on vacant walls, is untouched; nothing, it seems, penetrates the barriers he has erected around his solitary self. Tran, son of an influential politician, is confused and incensed.
There are murmurings in the staffroom, too, and the school’s Principal, glib Eliott Sullivan, sees potential threats to the smooth operation of his systems.
Tensions build at home and at school. And then, in a single impulsive moment, Harriet makes a decision that changes everything.
This is a novel that is full of surprises, where the reader is never entirely sure what genre he or she is being drawn into. As one reader wrote, ‘The further I got into the novel, the more intrigued I became. Where was it going? Every time you expect it to zig, it zags. I was continually surprised, thrown off scent. This is a subtle and beautiful book that doesn’t shout at people, so much as lead them by the hand and let go of them in the middle of a labyrinth”.
It’s a story that will be of particular interest to all those – students, parents and teachers – interested in the nature of English teaching in our secondary schools. It is a novel about writing, about the mythopoetic, about imagination and intuition, and about the role of stories and storytelling in our lives. It’s also a novel about the present state of our troubled world and the impact this is having on the younger generation.
‘The characters, deeply felt and realised on the page, come together to point us all to new ways of relating to each other. A must for English teachers as they consider their commitments in these difficult teaching times.’ − Dr Kim McCollum-Clark, Assoc. Professor, Millersville University, USA
‘This is a marvellous book which I found hard to put down that should be read by any English teacher keen to remember why he or she got into the business of teaching English. A must read!’ − Dr Mary Macken-Horarik, Senior Research Fellow
‘It’s a story that has all sorts of stories inside it. It’s a book in which worlds overlap, collide and intersect, and where truth is complex. Yet the book is full of hope. A great read.’ − Dr Margaret Byrne, author, filmmaker
‘This is a subtle and beautiful book that doesn’t shout at people, so much as lead them by the hand and lets go of them in the middle of a labyrinth. Every time you expect it to zig, it zags. It reminded me what I love about teaching and English and stories. Especially stories.’ − CeCe Edwards, English teacher and author, Canberra, Australia
‘A beautifully written and sensitive novel that should be shared with every teacher, student, parent and principal you know.’ − Rebecca Palethorpe, teacher,
‘It’s a warm, whimsical and cleverly constructed tale about inclusion and the power of storytelling. It is fun to read, unfolding itself like an Escher drawing.’ − Emily Yarra, organic primary producer
‘This is a wonderful piece of work, a sophisticated novel beautifully penned. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly.’ − Anila Komal, high school teacher, Pakistan
‘I finished the book at 2am, read in two straight settings. I haven’t done that for years. I was moved by Molly’s passion for her subject and students, and by her struggle to be with people and systems who seemed to have lost (or not yet discovered) the soul of their vocation.’ − Dr Neil Millar, Center for Courage & Renewal
‘I can’t imagine having anything to read that would be more life-affirming or more in tune with the values that inform our work as educators.’ — Dr John Yandell, author & journal editor
‘A novel that will appeal to English teachers because of the sophistication of the shifts in point of view and the beauty of the prose. A wonderful book.’ — Emeritus Professor Brenton Doecke
'I absolutely loved this book! I related to it on so many levels. The characters are wonderful; each with their own complexities and a realness that drew me in. Honestly, once I started reading, I could not put the book down. I read this when I was needing some inspiration – it gave me that.' - Rosie Grimm, teacher
'I enjoyed this novel very much. It describes the inside of a world of English teaching, of a distinctive and now arguably threatened kind, which I recognise and recall.' - Emeritus Professor Bill Green
Have a Launch Team committed - 160 names on the list, about 40 of them dependably active.
Have already begun social media campaign, esp via Facebook & Twitter
Launch date set for March 26th
Will be in touch with libraries and bookshops.
Applying with Alia and Australian Standing Orders to get book into libraries and schools
Have had an article and extract published in the English journal 'Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education'
Sent installments of the book to around 100 readers in the early months of 2018, from which many readers' comments came which can be used in publicity.
Have a high profile journalist/writer in Melbourne (James Button) supplying me with names of possible reviewers.
Will contact radio (citizen, ABC local, Radio National).
Talking with a couple of film makers about what we might do.
Investigate possible book awards I might enter.