Book review : Being Billy by Phil Earle

I wouldn’t have known anything about this book, let alone bought it if I hadn’t gone to watch Phil Earle talk about his Storey Street children’s book series at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival – and it’s five years old now so I’m not sure where it’s been hiding from me.

I defy anyone to go and watch Phil Earle speak and not be tempted to buy his whole back catalogue. He was engaging, open, and infectiously enthusiastic. And good with the kids; a breath of fresh air that buoyed me up in a day full of talks and panels with authors that, quite honestly, weren’t always as exciting as you would hope.

Anyway, I was drawn to Being Billy (and another of his books, Heroic – review to follow) when the mother of the pre-teen boy in the queue ahead of me was dissuaded from purchasing it for her precious little one due to the ‘older content’. I swear it was genuine interest that made me pick it up, though I can’t promise that there wasn’t an element of smug in the look that I gave said boy when returning to my seat.

Billy is a social care ‘lifer’ and is angry about it. Seemingly abandoned by everyone he cares about, the only thing that keeps him in check is the love he has for his younger siblings taken into care with 8 years ago, but when their relationship with their mother begins to change and he discovers something upsetting about the mysterious home life of his only friend, Billy spirals out of control. And there’s nobody to help him…or is there?

So, there is a moment in this book that genuinely made me cry like a baby. I’m not going to tell you why because I want it to reach in and grab you by the feels unprepared just like it did me when you read this book – and read this book you must. Billy, and his relationship with his care worker (little hint about the crying for you there, I’m not worries – it’ll still get you), just seem so real and genuine. Not surprising you may think after a short Google stalking session only to discover that Mr Earle has worked in a children’s care home and spent time as a drama therapist working with abused kids. Of course that must have helped him write about Billy, but experiencing something and writing about it in a convincing and moving way are not the same (as the high number of cringe worthy sex scenes out there proves); Billy is brilliantly written and the issues are delicately handled in a way that allows Phil’s straight talking attitude to shine through.

I genuinely cannot recommend  this book enough. For me, it was reminiscent of Melvin Burgess’ Junk and not just because of the similarly acidic neon green cover. Reading it, I was simultaneously immersed in, and educated about, a world of which I previously knew nothing. I was rooting for Billy in a way that I don’t for many people that I actually know and I was sad – and a little emotionally drained – when saying goodbye to him. I wonder what he’s up to now?

Read this book NOW and make everyone you know read it so that you can talk about it with them.

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