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Book excerpt: The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 8, 2014

The Simple Gift I read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest.  The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick interested me because I’d read Do-Wrong Ron by the same author to my Year 5 & 6 students.  They loved it, and I admired the free verse form, perfect for reading aloud.

Well, The Simple Gift isn’t going to be okay for primary school students because it’s the coming-of-age story of homeless 16-year-old Billy who runs away to avoid an abusive father, and it’s got some language that we don’t use at school, not to mention some … um … adolescent activity that we prefer to keep …um … theoretical for primary aged students – but I thought I’d share here an example of the power of Herrick’s style:


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,
I could taste it dribbling it 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.

Billy takes refuge in a library, and picks up Lord of the Flies:

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 desert island
and some try to live right
but the others go feral
and it’s s 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.

from The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick, UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2000, reissued 2014, ISBN 9780702231339, p. 15-16, and p23-24.

To read an excellent review of this novel, visit the blog of my friend Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker.


Fishpond: The Simple Gift: A Novel Or direct from UQP

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

One Response to “Book excerpt: The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick”

  1. […] Cross-posted at LisaHillSchoolStuff […]

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