Books come in all shapes, sizes and formats but when you open a novel you expect to find some sort of narrative written in prose. But when you open Steven Herrick's wonderful The Simple Gift, you discover something different and unexpected. Herrick is one of Australia's most widely-read poets and here he has come up with an intriguing and effective idea. The Simple Gift has a story that takes the reader through a period of change in the life of its teenaged central character, but the story is written as a poem, not a prose narrative. Steven Herrick is just the writer to make a book like The Simple Gift work perfectly. He has a story to tell and he knows how to use the evocative language of verse. In The Simple Gift, these two skills come together well to produce a moving and convincing reading experience. Sixteen-year-old Billy Luckett lives in a backwater Australian town and he has had enough of the meaningless schooling he has to suffer and the drunken abuse of his father. Years of boredom and abuse have not dampened Billy's intelligence and spirit - he knows it is time to break away from a life that he does not want. Billy hitches a ride on a freight train heading out of town. He doesn't know where the train is going, but that does not matter. The runaway teen eventually ends up in a small town called Bendarat, and he sets up home in a disused railway car in a remote freight yard. Billy has no intention of becoming a social drop-out and he slowly begins to rebuild his life. He befriends an old tramp who lives in the carriage next door and these two unlikely characters become uneasy friends. Old Bill has many stories to tell. The road that led him to the disused railway was long and twisted and Old Bill has received many knocks along the way. Billy also meets Caitlin, a girl from one of the richest families in Bendarat. She is privileged and beautiful, yet unhappy with her seemingly perfect life. Billy and Caitlin soon find themselves growing very close, but can there be any future for them? The Simple Gift is told in the three voices of Billy, Caitlin and Old Bill and the reader easily enters the lives of these very different characters as their frustrated hopes come to the surface. The three of them become the three points of a triangle that is struggling to make some sense of its shape. This is an unusual book, a fast, effective and engrossing read. Do not let the format of The Simple Gift put you off. It is an emotive story that you will want to read time and time again. The Simple Gift By Steven Herrick Published by Egmont ISBN 1 4052 0854 6 John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com .