Sunday, 5 June 2011

Being Billy by Phil Earle

Call me heartless, but I don't often cry over books (or films and TV for that matter, apart from when Madge died in Neighbours- tragic). I don't know why, but it has to be something very particular to get me reaching for the tissues. It's something I've tried to address over the years - watching Bambi and ET, attempting to read Sophie's Choice etc. Not a single tear between them, which is something I have become quite proud of.
Now Phil Earle has gone and ruined my record, because Being Billy actually made me cry.

Billy Finn is the epitome of a troubled teenager. He was taken into care, along with his little brother and sister, when he was six and now, at fourteen, he's angry. Angry with his mum, who stood drunkenly by while her boyfriend beat Billy for the slightest thing. Angry with the care workers at the home he lives in. Angry with the system for threatening to take his brother and sister away from him. Angry with himself for ruining any chances of a normal life that he's been offered.

When Billy is given a final warning to sort out his behaviour and is threatened with being moved to a different type of facility, away from his siblings, he realises he has to make some sort of effort. He starts showing his face at school, and even makes the closest thing to a friend that he's ever had, Daisy. He is trying, but being Billy, he still manages to get himself into trouble. With the help of his long-term carer and arch-rival, Ron (or The Colonel, as Billy calls him) Billy manages to get himself together slightly for the sake of his little family.  That's when he finds out that his mum is taking his brother and sister back to live with her. Without Billy.

How is Billy going to get through it, and will his mum finally rise to the challenge of having children?

Debut author Phil Earle has produced an incredible novel. It's not hard to guess that Phil has actually worked in a children's home and must have seen the reality of lives like Billy's because the voices sound so real. Somehow he has managed to blend tragedy and humour, violence and tenderness completely seamlessly. Reading this book, I occasionally felt like shouting at Billy to stop whining and sort himself out, because I was so desperate for him to get his happily ever after. 

If Being Billy isn't a multi-award winner by this time next year, I'll be amazed. Read it, and weep.

Age group 14+
Published by Puffin Books 

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