Monday 14 February 2011

Being Billy by Phil Earle

For Review: Puffin.  Published January 2011
From Goodreads: Faces flashed before my eyes. And for every face there was a time that they had let me down. Each punch that landed was revenge, my chance to tell them I hadn't forgotten what they did.

Eight years in a care home makes Billy Finn a professional lifer. And Billy's angry - with the system, the social workers, and the mother that gave him away. As far as Billy's concerned, he's on his own. His little brother and sister keep him going, though they can't keep him out of trouble. But he isn't being difficult on purpose. Billy's just being Billy. He can't be anything else. Can he?

This really is such a great book! I apologise in advance for my (rather) gushing review but I really did love it.

The story follows Billy, a boy who has been in care for the past 8 years, a 'lifer' as he calls it.  He's angry with everyone - the only meaning in his life are his younger brother and sister.  Then one night he runs into a girl called Daisy and they develop a friendship.  As he starts to open up to her he begins to learn that people do care...and that he cares too...

Phil Earle's writing in this is spot on and the voice he gives to Billy is remarkably authentic.  Not only did I absolutely adore his character but his story made me reconsider all the things I take for granted - having a home, having parents who have always been there for me, knowing that I am loved by them - there are just so many things that just are that I haven't really thought it might not be the case for everybody.  No,  that's not completely true.  I think I know that's the case but by making Billy so real, it makes it heartbreaking to realise that there are many, many kids out there just like him.

So I admit I cried A LOT reading this but please believe me when I say there is humour present too.  I loved how Billy is constantly trying to wind Ronnie up!  But Billy's story really struck a cord with me.  I can't even begin to understand what it must be like - to essentially be rejected not once but twice, and all before you are 15 years old.  To be told:  yes you are wanted and then no, sorry you are not.  Back to care you go.  It made me really sad (and angry) but I also began to understand why this might happen.  How do you go from living in care  - where everything is decided for you, with  a bunch of other kids and people who look after you on shifts and then go home to their 'real' family - to being part of a family where suddenly you are supposed to fit in and make all these choices, to really believe that someone cares?  I wondered if that's why Billy calls himself a lifer?  Because he knows he will never have anything else?

I loved taking Billy's journey with him.  At the start he's angry with everyone - constantly lashing out and refusing to let anyone close.  His lifeline is his brother and sister and you really see how different he is with them, how caring and vulnerable.  The addition of Daisy in his life seems to change all that anger and their friendship seems to open him up and make a real difference.  I also loved his relationship with Ronnie and how that changes and develops over the course of the novel.  If I had to criticise, there was one aspect of the story that felt a little too coincidental for my liking, but at the same time it did get Billy to the place he needs to be.  The pay-off made it worth it so to speak!

What I really enjoyed about this book, as well as everything I mentioned above, was how all the characters felt real.  Ronnie, Daisy, Billy's brother and sister, his mother -  I felt completely invested in all of them.  I think Phil Earle's experience working in a care home really added to this novel by giving us insight into not just Billy but also in the characters that surround him.  A truly awesome debut and I'm really looking forward to reading more by this author.


rachel said...

This book sounds really good! Fab review! :D

Rachel from Booktastic Reviews :)

Tasha said...

I really enjoyed reading this book as well. It was so well written. Great review!

TheBookAddictedGirl said...

This books sounds incredible, and I loved the interview, too!
Awesome review!


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