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Steven Herrick The Simple Gift Essay

This is my third novel (in verse) for young adults. It’s about Billy, who leaves home aboard a freight train heading interstate. Billy finds himself in Bendarat, living in a disused train carriage, where he meets a homeless man called Old Bill. Old Bill drinks away his past while Billy tries to find a future. The other main character is Caitlin, a girl Billy meets in Bendarat. All three characters are searching for something to give their lives substance..

the simple gift - UQP 2000

shortlisted - CBCA Book of the Year 2001 & The NSW Premiers Literary Awards 2001

It's the only time my schoolbag
has come in handy.
I tip my books, pens, jumper
out on my bed
shake yesterday's sandwich, squashed,
from the bottom of the bag.
I go to the kitchen
take the beer,
last night's leftovers,
some glossy red apples,
Dad's champagne and cigarettes,
load my schoolbag,
my travelling bag,
leave the bottle of lemonade on the table
with a note,
"see ya, Dad.
I've taken the alcohol.
Drink this instead
to celebrate your son
leaving home."

The old bastard will have a fit!
And me?
I'll be long gone.

(page one)

Steven Herrick’s The Simple Gift was published in 2004 by Simon Pulse. The story focuses on Billy, who is sixteen years old and living in Australia. Billy’s father is abusive. To escape familial turmoil, Billy hops on a freight train and settles in a small town. For his trip, he packs his school bag, cigarettes and alcohol, and says goodbye to his dog.

Billy gets on a train going west in a rain storm. He ends up at an old railroad town called Bendarat. He is a survivor and figures out how to find food and keep clean. His homeless condition is a status that he accepts, and yet he also prides himself with his street smarts, which enable him to survive. He meets and falls in love with Caitlin whose life could not be any more different from Billy’s homeless life. She is from a wealthy family and largely dissatisfied with her life. Billy also becomes friends with Old Bill, a homeless drunk. He shows Billy how to earn money.

Caitlin notices that Billy takes the leftovers off the tables in a McDonald’s and seeks to learn more about him. She has the menial job of mopping floors there. His compassion is a welcome change for Caitlin.

This is the third novel that Herrick has written in free verse. The chapters are marked by the characters’ names. In the eleven chapters, each chapter begins with a brief extract from one of the poems within the chapter. A black-and-white image appears with the quotation and captures the essence of the section. The free verse poems are told by the three main characters: Billy, Caitlin, and Old Bill. This first-person account brings a direct understanding of the experiences of each character and to each other. This lyrical format brings a musical quality to the relationships and expression.

The story stands as a metaphor for life within a challenging social and family structure—and the seamless way in which children often live their lives homeless without being detected.

The novel received favorable reviews noting its appeal for reluctant readers and its swift-reading style.

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