Being Billy by Phil Earle

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Being Billy by Phil Earle

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Thought-provoking and moving story of a boy who's been in long-term care. Unreliable narration gives this story direct impact and a big punch. Bookbag thought it was great.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141331356

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Billy is a 'lifer' - he's been in care for eight years. He's angry, defensive and folded up inside himself. He's prone to vandalism and violence and barely a week goes by without his careworkers needing to restrain him. He doesn't really go to school and even when he does, Billy is so far behind that there seems little point. The only joy in his life comes from the twins, his little brother and sister. Louie and Lizzie can't keep him out of trouble, but they can provide an anchor and Billy delights in caring for them. He reads them bedtime stories and sits by the door of their room until they fall asleep.

Billy's mother is still on the scene. Annie says she's given up drinking. Her ex Shaun is no longer around so there's no danger of violence. And her access sessions with the twins are going well. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to Billy when he overhears a conversation between his keyworkers - the twins could be going home, leaving their older brother behind. It's the biggest blow yet - but what can Billy do?

Being Billy is such a thought-provoking book. This is Phil Earle's first novel and he writes in a direct, no-nonsense style, accessible to a very wide range of readers. The cleverness is in a somewhat unreliable narration - the reader lives right inside Billy's head and so experiences his - understandable - suspicion and lack of trust very directly. And they will quite understand the conspiracy theories that are Billy's first thoughts about almost any situation: his careworker pities or despises him; people treat him with contempt not concern; friendship is always offered with strings attached.

Of course, this is not actually so. Many people have Billy's best interests at heart, in particular his keyworker Ronnie, but it's more than that. Ronnie genuinely cares for Billy and he doesn't despise him at all - rather, he admires the way he's cared for the twins despite everything. And Ronnie's life outside the home isn't the apple pie family that Billy imagines at all. His friend Daisy is rooting for him, too, if he could only see it.

As the book goes on, Billy does learn to see these things, but it's a painful process. Coming-of-age is desperately difficult for some of us, and the magic in this book is that it shows us this very directly, with a huge emotional punch. Bookbag thought it was great.

My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.

I think they might also like Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd about a care-babe on a road trip, Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess which riffs on Oliver Twist, and The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight by Jenny Valentine, a reworking of Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.

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Buy Being Billy by Phil Earle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Being Billy by Phil Earle at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Being Billy by Phil Earle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Being Billy by Phil Earle at


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