Monday, January 03, 2011

REVIEW: Being Billy by Phil Earle

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?

I loved this one entirely. Being Billy by Phil Earle felt real and heartbreaking and I cried absolute buckets for Billy. I knew that this book would probably be sad but I wasn't expecting the shuddering, messy sobs that came out of me while reading this book. And it isn't as if any one major thing happened to make me feel so much, rather than absolutely everything put together makes this book so beautiful and sad and able to pull my heart out and squeeze it. A huge, huge thank you to Puffin for providing me with this review copy.

Right from the very first page I identified with Billy. He's such a great character, so complex. His anger covers up so many other emotions. Scared and vulnerable, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have spent most of my childhood in a care home. Billy's mother gave him up 8 years ago after an incident with her boyfriend at the time. And that's left Billy bouncing between social workers and carers. And he's angry at them all. Angry that no one seems to care about him. That his carers are only there doing a job and forgets about him when they go home to their own families. But he's got his little brother and sister there that he needs to take care of, and the twins are the only things keeping Billy going. What else is there? He's all alone.

I have to say, Billy reminds me a great deal of my own brother, which might explain the huge emotional impact this book had on me. Billy's just so angry at how unjust the hand that he's been given is. There's so many instances in the book, where it's clear to see how much of a disadvantage Billy is, living in a care home. Especially emotionally. He doesn't have a great deal of self-worth and you can see how much Billy likes to test his limits, see how far he can go. Whereas Billy projects an image of not caring, I think instead, Billy cares too much.

And you can see a very soft and more vulnerable side to Billy as he cares for his little brother and sister. Providing them with a bedtime routine, staying outside the bathroom door to protect his little sister, staying with them both until they've fallen asleep. I think these scenes were especially hard for me to read, as a parent. Such little things, nobody should have to do without.

I don't think I've ever read a book like this one, that shows life in a care home. Billy's voice is one that I've not heard before and with this book Phil Earle shines a light on something that more people should know about and understand. I didn't know very much about care homes or what would happen to a child without parents to look after them. And it isn't a pretty picture looking at life through Billy's eyes. The confusion for the children as carers come and go on different shifts. No real stable influence or guiding hand. The ways in which Billy and other 'lifers' are treated by other people, by teachers and other students. The ways in which they see themselves, that life gets so hard that these kids end up with a hard, uncaring stare. Billy believes himself to be all alone, but I did very much love the relationship between him and Ronnie. Those two together make this book a lot less grim and give me hope.

This one is definitely one to look out for. Published 6th January, it comes incredibly highly recommended from me.


  1. Thanks for a great review! I just hopped over to Amazon and pre ordered it for my Kindle. I thought I'd better pop back and let you know as it's always nice to hear that someone purchased a book because of your review. :)

    Ps the Kindle version is more expensive than the paperback :-0 shame I have no shelf space left lol

  2. Terrific review. I am undecided about reading this one as I think the subject is quite sensitive. I think you have convinced me to give it a go especially when I need a good cry :D

  3. i loved this book too - thought it was completely awesome. Really emotional and poignant

  4. I'm so glad you liked Being Billy! I loved it and it made me cry buckets as well! Great review :) x

  5. You sound like you really enjoyed this book. I think it might be too upsetting and emotional for me, but I am glad you enjoyed it.

  6. I'm reading this next. I know you say seeing through Billy's eyes isn't pretty but from the sounds of it it's very real (having spent some time in care myself many years ago I had problems with certain books which glorified it somewhat and was devastated when my son really wanted to go to one in the way I wanted to go to boarding school) Fantastic review!

  7. This sounds really excellent. I will definitely add it to my (very long) to-read list.

  8. TSB - That IS wonderful to hear, thanks for letting me know! I hope you love it as much as I did :)

    Emma - I think that *I* might cry more than other people, but I'm glad you're giving it a chance!

    Kirsty - YAY for this book. And you. Did you review it? I don't think I remember seeing it..

    CarlyB - I'm glad it's not just me :) Thanks.

    Vivienne - I DID really enjoy this book! I can see how you might not want to read it though..

    Vicki - You lost the 'Rhiana' did you? :) I had no idea you'd been in care :( This one did feel very realistic to me and the author used to work in one, so I hope it feels authentic to you as well. It must be tough reading about it?

    Zara - Oh I hope you do and that you read it soon :)

  9. Clover... only for a very short time thankfully! It could be a hard read..but they are always they worthwhile ones. :-)

  10. Your review is exactly why I want to and don't want to read this book. Okay... that doesn't make any sense. It sounds so incredibly moving and emotional and I always get emotional where young people are concerned so I imagine this will break my heart. The question is whether I can put it back together again afterwards. Lovely review.

  11. hello, I'm so chuffed to see such a smashing review for 'Billy'. Thanks so much.
    The young people I worked with were incredible, with more strength and resilience than many of us who had 'normal' upbringings, and whilst the truth of their lives is sometimes challenging to witness, there is real hope at the end of the book.....

  12. Vicki - I think you're right. They are the ones to look out for and mean more when you've finished.

    Becky - Aww. I think it's worth the attempt at trying, I really do. I can see what you're saying, but it really isn't as sad as all that, really.

    Phil (can I call you Phil, or is that weird?) - how lovely to see your comment. I love author comments, thank you. And thanks for pointing out the hopeful bits of the novel. I think what most people are getting from my review is that it's really sad and tear-inducing, but it's not as bleak as all that!


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