The Simple Gift

The Simple Gift

4.7 4
by Steven Herrick
     
 

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I'm not proud.
I'm sixteen, and soon to be homeless.

Weary of his life with his alcoholic, abusive father, sixteen-year-old Billy packs a few belongings and hits the road, hoping for something better than what he left behind. He finds a home in an abandoned freight train outside a small town, where he falls in love with rich, restless Caitlin and befriends a

Overview

I'm not proud.
I'm sixteen, and soon to be homeless.

Weary of his life with his alcoholic, abusive father, sixteen-year-old Billy packs a few belongings and hits the road, hoping for something better than what he left behind. He finds a home in an abandoned freight train outside a small town, where he falls in love with rich, restless Caitlin and befriends a fellow train resident, "Old Bill," who slowly reveals a tragic past. When Billy is given a gift that changes everything, he learns not only to how forge his own path in life, but the real meaning of family.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The third of Australian author Steven Herrick's free verse novels that began with Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair, The Simple Gift, centers on 16-year-old Billy Luckett, who runs away from his alcoholic father to make his own way: "I'm poor, homeless/ but I'm not stupid." The poems are written from the points of view of Billy, Old Bill (who he meets while living in a train car) and Caitlin, Billy's love interest-a girl from a wealthy family who works at McDonald's. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
In the powerful style of Mel Glenn, Sonya Sones, Virginia Euwer Wolff, and David Levithan, Australian poet Herrick has etched a free-verse novel about independence, homelessness, and the forces that move human nature. Sixteen-year-old Billy Luckett leaves a destructive home life and finds shelter on an old freight car train. Meeting up with hobo Old Bill gives both characters an opportunity to know themselves. Billy eats leftovers from the garbage at a local McDonald's and fortunately connects with a wealthy teen, Caitlin, whose menial job is mopping the floors there. There is a genuine magnetic attraction between these kids and the free verse authenticates their feelings, their environments and the themes of the story. Chapters are marked by the characters' names and revealing quotes foreshadow each chapter. The reader is easily drawn into this lyrical format, as though one were listening to a musical ballad. The "simple gift" is a generous one, from Old Bill to Billy, but it also represents a metaphor for life in this poignant examination of family, social structure and the invisible face of homelessness. Billy has the strength of a champion and the story is uplifting in spite of tragic loss. This is a quick read with great depth and a wonderful title for endless discussion. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse, 192p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Nancy Zachary
VOYA
Australian poet Herrick's stream-of-consciousness free-verse novel follows sixteen-year-old Billy as he hops a freight train to run away from his abusive father. He lands in Bendarat, a once-thriving small town in western Australia, and moves into an abandoned train carriage. Stopping at McDonalds, Billy buys a small lemonade and helps himself to food left on tables. There he meets wealthy Caitlin, who surprises him by confessing "I hate mopping" instead of turning him in to the manager. Old Bill, living in the next carriage, is worn and gray before his time, drowning himself in beer to block out the memories of his dead wife and daughter. Billy brings food while Old Bill gives advice-how to live cheaply and where to find work. For Billy, Bendarat is perfect-a cozy carriage, a great library with a friendly librarian, a river to bathe in, a confidant in Old Bill, and a budding relationship with Caitlin. Billy has nothing to offer but the gift of friendship and a listening ear, but when the cops and welfare threaten, that simple gift is more than enough. Told in alternating voices, the story flows smoothly and seamlessly, a silent dialogue in the mind. Parts of Billy's life are not pretty, and the language is appropriately strong. Sex is present as Billy's relationship with Caitlin grows, but it is discrete and sweet. Fans of Herrick's companion novels, Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair (Simon Pulse, 2004/VOYA June 2004) and A Place Like This (2004/VOYA June 2004), will find that his third novel is even better, telling a more compelling story with appeal for reluctant readers as well. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Simon & Schuster, 192p., Trade pb. Ages 12 to 18.
—Roxy Ekstrom
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-A free-verse novel told in three voices. Billy, 16, says good riddance to his abusive father and hops a freight train. Settling in a small town in Australia that has a friendly librarian and a train yard with abandoned cars to call home, he adjusts quickly to life, figuring out how to eat and keep clean. Intelligent and mature, the teen thinks about cruelty, compassion, and what his life has become-"I'm poor, homeless, but I'm not stupid." He meets and falls in love with Caitlin, a rich and dissatisfied girl who quickly sees there is more to Billy than a starving bum grabbing leftovers off the tables in McDonald's. He also befriends Old Bill, a homeless drunk who teaches him a few things, including how to earn money. Billy has little to offer but compassion, and that's what these two people so desperately need. All three of them are able to give the simplest gifts to one another in this beautiful, subtle, and sensitive story. Tough language is occasionally and appropriately used, and the sexuality is indirectly portrayed, sweet and full of love. A dramatic and compelling story that will appeal even to reluctant readers, this book exceeds Herrick's pair of verse novels, Love, Ghosts, & Facial Hair and A Place Like This (both Pulse, 2004).-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780689868672
Publisher:
Simon Pulse
Publication date:
04/27/2004
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
1,126,919
Product dimensions:
0.41(w) x 7.81(h) x 5.06(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Simple Gift


By Steven Herrick

University of Queensland Press

Copyright © 2000 Steven Herrick
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7022-3133-9


CHAPTER 1

    Champagne

    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.


    Kiss the dog

    I'm not proud.
    I'm sixteen, and soon
    to be homeless.
    I sit on the veranda
    and watch the cold rain fall.
    Bunkbrain, our dog,
    sits beside me.
    I'd like to take him with me.
    He doesn't deserve to stay
    in this dump, no-one does.
    But you don't get rides
    with a dog.
    And two mouths to feed
    is one too many.
    Bunkbrain knows something,
    he nuzzles in close,
    his nose wet and dirty
    from sniffing for long-lost bones.
    I scratch behind his ears
    and kiss the soft hair
    on his head.
    I'll miss you dog.
    I'm not proud.
    I'm leaving.
    The rain falls steady.
    Bunkbrain stays on the veranda.


    Longlands Road

    This place has never looked
    so rundown and beat.
    Old Basten's truck still on blocks,
    the grass unmown around the doors.
    Mrs Johnston's mailbox on the ground
    after I took to it with a cricket bat
    last week.
    And the windows to the Spencer house
    still broken
    from New Year's Eve,
    it must get cold in the front room
    at night.
    My street.
    My suburb.
    I take a handful of rocks,
    golf ball size.
    I walk slowly in the rain
    the bag on my back.
    I throw one rock on the roof
    of each deadbeat no-hoper
    shithole lonely downtrodden house
    in Longlands Road, Nowheresville.
    The rocks bounce and clatter
    and roll and protest
    at being left in this damn place.
    I say goodbye to all that,
    throwing rocks down Longlands Road.


    Wentworth High School

    I reach school at four-thirty
    in the rainy afternoon
    of my goodbyes.
    Principal Viera's Holden
    pulls out of the car park
    and blows smoke down the road.
    I jump the fence
    and walk the grounds.
    The wind howls and rain sheets in
    blowing potato crisp wrappers
    across the oval.
    I go to Room 421
    and look through the window.
    Mr Cheetam's homework is on the board.
    Twenty-six students are learning
    about the geography of Japan
    and one lucky bastard is writing
    'may you all get
    well and truly stuffed'
    on the window
    in K-Mart red lipstick
    stolen especially for this occasion.
    I sign my name in red
    'Billy Luckett,
    rhymes with ...'
    Let Cheetam chew on that.


    Westfield Creek

    I love this place.
    I love the flow of cold clear water
    over the rocks
    and the wattles on the bank
    and the lizards sunbaking,
    heads up, listening,
    and the birds,
    hundreds of them,
    silver-eyes and currawongs,
    kookaburras laughing
    at us kids swinging on the rope
    and dropping into the bracing flow.
    I spent half my school days here
    reading books I'd stolen
    from Megalong Bookshop
    with old Tom Whitton
    thinking I'm his best customer
    buying one book
    with three others shoved up my jumper.
    I failed every Year 10 subject
    except English.
    I can read.
    I can dream.
    I know about the world.
    I learnt all I need to know
    in books on the banks
    of Westfield Creek,
    my favourite classroom.


    Please

    The Great Western Highway
    is not much of a highway,
    not great at all,
    but it does head west,
    which is where I'm going
    if one of these damn cars
    will only stop and give me a ride.
    Two hours in the dark
    in the rain
    in the dirt of this bloody road
    is not getting me anywhere.
    What to do?
    Go home?
    'Say Dad,
    I still want to leave
    but I couldn't get a lift
    so one more night
    that's OK with you, isn't it?'
    He'd be sober because I stole
    his beer
    his champagne.
    No. I can't go back.
    I could sleep at school,
    on the veranda.
    One more hour of this,
    just one ride,
    please.
    please.


    Freight train

    Not one car has passed
    in the last twenty minutes.
    At least the rain has stopped.
    I'm sitting on my bag
    looking across at the freight train
    stopped at the crossing
    for no good reason.
    Fifty coal carriages,
    empty,
    heading to the Waggawang Coalfields
    and one carriage
    with a speedboat strapped on top.
    A speedboat on a train
    heading west?
    To what?
    A coalfield lake?
    The inland river system
    dry as a dead dingo's bones?
    And then it hits me.
    Who cares. It's heading west,
    and I'm not ...
    so ...
    I race across the highway,
    bag swinging,
    and the train whistle blows
    as I reach the bushes beside the track,
    a quick glance, both ways,
    and I'm up on the carriage
    pulling myself into the
    Aquadream Speedboat
    with the soft padded bench seat,
    the Evinrude outboard motor
    and the fishing gear.
    The train whistle blows again
    and we lurch forward
    as I get my ride
    on a speedboat out of town
    and not a lake for miles.


    Cold

    Two kilometres down the track
    I realise
    how fast trains go
    when you've got no window to close
    and the wind and rain
    hits you in the face
    with the force of a father's punch.
    I unpack my bag
    put my jacket on
    wrap a jumper around my ears and neck
    put my spare pants on
    over my trousers
    and I'm still freezing
    and the whistle keeps blowing
    as we speed through the bitter night.
    I'll be frozen dead
    before morning.
    I snuggle under the bow
    of this speeding speedboat
    cutting the night
    my knees tight against my chest
    and my teeth clenched
    in some wild frost-bitten grin
    and that train whistle keeps me sane
    blowing across every dirt road crossing
    with flashing red lights
    and not a soul awake
    except the train driver
    warm in his cabin
    and the idiot
    hunched under the bow
    praying for morning and sunshine.


    Keep warm

    'Hey kid,
    get outta there.
    You'll freeze to death.
    That'll teach you
    to hitch a ride with National Rail.
    No free rides with this government, son.
    Just kidding.
    I hate the bloody government.
    Get your bag
    and come back to the guard's van.
    There's a heater that works,
    and some coffee.
    We've stopped here
    waiting for the Interstate.
    Passengers snoring in their comfy cabins
    get priority
    over empty coal trains.
    Say, what do you think of me boat?
    Yep, mine.
    I got a special deal to bring it home.
    We've got a lake outside of town,
    perfect for fishing
    and getting away from the telly.
    I'm going to sit in this tub
    and drink myself stupid
    every weekend.
    There you go.
    Make a cuppa if you want.
    And here's some sandwiches,
    too much salad for my liking.
    Just don't tell anyone about this, OK.
    I'll see you in the morning.
    We'll be in Bendarat at dawn.
    I'll blow the whistle three times
    and I'll stop just before town.
    Jump out then, OK.

    Keep warm.
    I've got a train to drive.'


    Men

    There are men like Ernie,
    the train driver, in this world.
    Men who don't boss you around
    and don't ask prying questions
    and don't get bitter
    at anyone different from them.
    Men who share a drink and food
    and a warm cabin
    when they don't have to.
    Men who know the value of things
    like an old boat
    built for long weekends on a lake.
    Men who see something happening
    and know if it's right
    or wrong
    and aren't afraid to make that call.
    There are men like Ernie
    and
    there are other men,
    men like my dad.


    Sport

    I was ten years old
    in the backyard
    kicking a soccer ball
    against the bedroom wall,
    practising for the weekend.
    My first season of sport
    and I'd already scored a goal,
    so I kept practising, alone.
    And I guess I tried too hard,
    I kicked it too high,
    stupid of me I know,
    and I broke the bedroom window.
    I stood in the yard
    holding the ball
    looking at the crack in the pane.
    Dad came thundering out.
    He didn't look at the damage.
    He'd heard it.
    He came over, grabbed the ball,
    kicked it over the back fence
    into the bushes,
    gave me one hard backhander
    across the face,
    so hard I fell down
    as much in shock as anything,
    and I felt the blood
    from my nose,
    from my nose,
    I could taste it dribbling out
    as Dad stood over me
    and said
    no more sport
    no more forever.
    He walked back inside
    and slammed the door
    on my sporting childhood
    that disappeared into the bushes
    with my soccer ball.

    I was ten years old.
    I didn't go inside for hours.
    I looked through the back window
    watching him
    reading the paper
    in front of the television
    as if nothing
    had happened.


    Another crossing

    Ernie was right,
    too much salad in the sandwich,
    but I ate it all the same.
    I had a coffee
    heaped with sugar
    sweet and hot
    and I felt warm
    like Ernie had wished.
    I took the champagne
    out of my bag
    and stood it on the table
    between Ernie's coffee pot
    and his lunch box.
    I wrote a note.
    'Thanks Ernie.
    Here's a present
    to launch your boat.
    Don't smash it though!
    Drink it.'
    I heard the whistle again
    and looked out at
    another lonesome crossing
    and felt glad
    that the champagne
    was going to someone
    who deserved it.

CHAPTER 2

    Bendarat

    Dawn is fog-closed and cold.
    A ute bounces along the dirt road
    beside the track,
    its lights dancing in the mist.
    I see a street sign,
    'Bendarat – five kilometres'.
    I pack my bag quickly,
    warm my hands
    close to the heater
    and wait for the three whistles
    to dump me in another State,
    miles from home
    miles from school,
    with the sun finally
    lifting the fog
    as the train slows
    and Ernie whistles good luck.
    I climb down,
    wave ahead,
    and walk slowly
    into Bendarat.


    Tonight, and the night after

    The walk stretches my cold body
    and gets me breathing again.
    As I near town there's more cars
    and school buses, yellow,
    full of kids shouting insults
    at me, the bum,
    walking down the road.
    I don't care,
    better a bum than a schoolkid.
    It's an old town
    with stone buildings
    and wide streets
    and cast-iron street lamps
    like crazy ghosts lurking
    on the footpaths.
    And every shop has a SALE sign
    like the whole town's
    desperate for money.
    As I walk down Main Street
    thinking of the $50 in my pocket
    and how it's got to last me
    a lifetime
    I realise Bendarat
    is not the only desperate one.
    But, today
    I don't care.
    The sun is shining now
    as I reach the library
    and sit down on the front steps,
    one hour until opening.
    My day today is reading,
    reading about people who don't need money
    and people
    who have somewhere to sleep
    tonight,
    and the night after.


    Lord of the lounge

    It's a good library.
    Lots of books, sure,
    and lounges soft and comfortable
    for real reading,
    and I choose one
    in the corner
    and I settle down
    with a book about these kids
    stranded on a deserted island
    and some try to live right
    but the others go feral
    and it's a good book
    and I'm there, on the island,
    gorging on tropical fruit,
    trying to decide
    whose side I'm on.
    And then it hits me.
    I'm on neither.
    I'd go off alone,
    because you can't trust
    those who want to break the rules
    and you certainly can't trust
    those who make the rules,
    so you do the only thing possible,

    you avoid the rules.
    That's me,
    on the deserted island
    of a soft lounge
    in Bendarat Library.


    The librarian

    'You can borrow that if you like.'

    Her badge says
    Irene Thompson – Chief Librarian.
    Trouble I'm sure.

    'It's a good book.
    It was my favourite when I was young.'

    'No thanks.
    I'm happy to read it here.'
    Please just leave me alone.
    'That's fine.
    But we close for lunch in ten minutes.
    I'm sorry. But you can come back at two.'

    'Thanks Mrs Thompson. I will.
    It's too good a book not to finish.'
    She's OK.
    Not like the librarian at home.
    She hated kids touching books.
    She ran the perfect library
    because no-one ever went in there
    to disturb the books.

    'Call me Irene.
    I'm old, but not that old.
    See you after lunch.'


    Lunch

    I'm poor, homeless,
    but I'm not stupid.
    For lunch I go to Coles.
    I buy a packet of bread rolls,
    some cheese and a tomato.
    Enough for three meals.
    I sit on the bench
    at Bendarat Gardens
    with my Swiss Army knife
    cutting thin slices of tomato
    with chunks of cheese
    and I eat two rolls
    watching the pigeons
    watching me.
    I toss them some crumbs.
    Lunchtime entertainment,
    free of charge,
    is a couple kissing on a blanket.
    For twenty minutes
    they lay together
    kissing
    hugging.

    They hardly touched their sandwiches.
    I can't blame them.
    As they got up to leave

    I felt like applauding,
    but as I said
    I'm poor, homeless,
    but I'm not stupid.


    The Motel Bendarat

    I finished the book,
    nodded goodbye to Irene
    and walked out
    into the late afternoon cloud
    and a slight drizzle.
    No sleeping in the park tonight.
    Two options:
    a church
    or a railway station.
    Churches are too spooky and cold.
    I walk to the station.
    Men in suits, like tired penguins,
    wait for the bus
    and throw furtive glances
    at the woman on the seat
    reading a magazine.
    She ignores them.

    The train station is sandstone
    with a long veranda platform,
    hard wooden seats and a Coke machine.
    I walk across the tracks
    past the freight yard
    to some old carriages,
    disused, waiting to be sold
    and turned into
    fancy bed and breakfast accommodation
    or maybe used as someone's chook shed.
    I try each door until one opens.
    I climb in.
    There's a long bench seat
    fit to hold eight people
    and certainly long enough
    for me to sleep on.
    It's comfortable too,
    being old and well made.
    I close the door
    and make a home
    in Carriage 1864,
    painted red and yellow,
    my Motel Bendarat.

    Night

    I had two rolls for dinner,
    washed down with
    the last of Dad's beer.
    The carriage was surprisingly warm
    and quiet, so quiet.
    I used my bag as a pillow,
    wrapped my jacket over me,
    lay back and slept
    the sleep of the dreamless.
    Occasionally I woke
    to a train whistle
    or the clank of metal on metal
    as the night shift worked,
    shunting the freight carriages.
    I thought of Bunkbrain, my dog,
    probably asleep on the veranda
    and I wished I had brought him
    for the company
    on nights like this
    in a new town
    and in a new home.


    Eating out

    I finished the rolls
    and cheese for lunch today,
    so tonight I'm eating out.
    McDonald's.
    I order a small lemonade,
    no ice,
    no fries,
    no burger,
    and no smile from the lady
    behind the counter.
    She's the manager I'm sure.
    Everyone else working here is my age
    except this lady
    who looks at me as if I'm diseased
    for ordering only a drink.
    I go upstairs
    where it's quiet and warm.
    I read the free newspaper
    and wait.
    Sure enough
    the couple in the corner
    can't eat all the fries,
    and the woman leaves half a burger.
    They get up to leave
    and before they've reached the stairs
    I'm over at the table,
    grabbing the burger
    and the fries
    to go with my lemonade,
    the lemonade I bought.
    This is the only way to eat at McDonald's.
    I sit back
    read the newspaper
    and wait for the family of five to leave.
    I can see dessert
    waiting for me.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick. Copyright © 2000 Steven Herrick. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Steven Herrick is one of Australia's most popular poets. His books for teens include Love, Ghosts, & Facial Hair; A Place Like This; and The Simple Gift.

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Simple Gift 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
louiseking More than 1 year ago
i read the simple gift earlier today and i simply couldn't put it down, i loved the easy read ; but i really wish that it was longer. none the less it was amazing truely amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Caitlyn and Bill come from completley opposite worlds. Caitlyns family is rich and she recieves anythijng and everything she desires. Bill on the other hand left his drucken, abusive father looking for a better life. He starts living in a train with old Bill. caitlyn and Bill meet when Caitlyn sees Bill scrambling after scraps of food left by a family at Mcdonalds. The two become instant friends and lovers not minding their differences. This book is the best and you feel as though you are right there beside them experiencing the pain, laughter, and frienship amongst them. But will Bill get caught or will Caitlyn's friends have something to say about her love? This book is full of emotions. You will never want to put it down. I highly recommend this book to anyone, both boys and girls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a real catch and a quick read! It lets you see hobos with different eyes... it changed the way i thought of hobos completely.. If you like romances, family issues and a bit of adventure you will love this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would say this one of the best books i have ever read. If it wasnt for people forcing me to read this book i wouldnt have known there was such a good author out there.