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.