6th January 2011, Puffin,
262 pages, Paperback
Review copy (uncorrected proof so actual number of pages may vary)
Young Adult, 13+
Living in care, troubled teenagers, alcohol, smoking, abusive situations, love for younger siblings, school life,
Summary from Puffin
A green cover! This might be really obvious, but I don't have a lot of books with a green cover, so it made an impression on me. I really liked the sound of this book, because I've read other books that have people in care/in secure environments and they provided an insight into what it's like. A few weeks/possibly months ago I watched a documentary all about a boy in care. Reading Being Billy made me think of the boy - a lot of what he did, Billy did. He even has siblings that he can only visit every now and then. Phil's experiences have helped him create an engaging book.
Billy has had it tough, there's no question about it. I was able to guess that he'd had a harsh upbringing, but the reasons why he has so much anger and a lot of issues with people only becomes revealed later on in the novel. From the outset I felt sorry for him. Growing up is a difficult enough time for anybody, but add in abuse and getting moved around a lot, it's enough to make anyone act up. I think that Billy is so used to being defensive and aggressive that he automatically goes into that mode. Something happens and his careworkers tell him enough is enough. He has to change his ways or his life will go down a route he doesn't want to happen.
I think what made the story so good was the fact that Billy wasn't on his own. The twins, who are 9 years old and had been in care their whole lives, adore Billy. He deals with them, he's allowed to get them food without eating food that the other children have to eat. He reads them stories at night. He guards them as they go to sleep. He guards them (at least the girl) when they have a bath. He's the one they call when life goes wrong. He has this hugely compassionate side, which sometimes gets dwarfed by his aggressive side. And yet it is this very compassion that proves to benefit him in the story. Others see what he does, and that keeps him from a hand's length away from being locked up for good.
Additionally there are the careworkers. They feel a lot like family - even though he doesn't like most of them, he knows how they work. Interestingly enough Billy's life doesn't focus on the other children in the home that much - it's more on what he does outside it, or inside his room. His mother is involved because there has been progress in her situation.
I cried at least 5 times in this book. It's so touching in some areas, either by what Billy says or does, or what he realises about other people. Billy, like all children in care is a person. He needs love, but he can't necessarily register friendship and a genuine desire to help him. He learns this throughout the novel. By the end he isn't perfect, and it will take a long time to get through his mistakes and what happened to him and his siblings. But he's on the right track, and potentially has a good future.
A brilliant, hard hitting tale about what it's like for those in care. Billy feels like giving up on life, but a few people never give up on him, and get him through some of the toughest times.
Check out this video about Being Billy here.