I purchased 'The Simple Gift' when I undertook my HSC a few years ago as it was the prescribed text. There was a reason my English classes' nick name for it was: "The Simple Text".
The story centers on a young man dealing with the disenfranchisement of public school, abuse at home, and chooses to become homeless in order to escape. For many young people homelessness is a real issue that Herrick paints, almost romantically, as our main character makes a friend with an older homeless man (who HAS a house that he somehow hasn't lost despite the fact he probably hasn't paid his rates in years), suddenly gets a girlfriend who rebels against her rich family by seeing the goodness in our main lead, and undertakes 'trails' of body and character to discover his own self worth and dignity. This occurs while convenient luck in the shape of a job, Centrelink officers who don't ask questions and no erroneous arrests for loitering, assists our lead through his 'trials'.
The humour in the novella is that while our main lead is railing against the production line style of school the story reads as if the, then called, Department of Education NSW approached Herrick to write a generic story that would both fit the HSC English concepts of 'Belonging' and 'Journeys'. No wonder my school attempted to make us attend a 'mandatory that costs extra money' lecture given by Herrick on his intentions and themes of his work.
Herrick creates a tale that both simplifies the issues of; grief, homelessness, stereotypes, class, and education and somehow, he also insults each person in society that is currently dealing with those issues with this sorry excuse for a work. The book has no subtlety, slapping you across the face with examples from a Year 9 English class definition list of imagery, metaphor, and simile. Are people sad? It's raining! There's a key on the cover? The key is both a physical key to a new home and a metaphorical one to a new life!
Honestly, teenagers could've written better.
Final Thoughts. My HSC crew lived through the birth of the "Better love story than Twilight meme." Well let me tell you... Twilight had the better love story in this case.
I nearly threw this book out without reading it because I did not know it was in verse and not prose. I hate poetry in any form, but I made an exception and read it. I was hooked from the first poem. It had a clear story that was easy to follow and had me in tears at times. It was quite a sad story with a happy ending.