Review: Being Billy – Phil Earle

Synopsis from Goodreads.
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?




This book was fantastic. I think my heart is still pounding from those last couple of chapters.
I don’t mind admitting that the majority of my knowledge of children in care is from reading Tracey Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. And I know that might sound odd because Ms Wilson doesn’t really write young adult books, but if you’ve ever read a Jacqueline Wilson you will know that she is not one to shy away from the truth or darker aspects of life because they’re uncomfortable to read. Tracey Beaker is my second favourite of Ms Wilson’s books (First one, if you’re interested, is The Lottie Project) because it’s so realistic and isn’t afraid to delve into the nitty-gritty of what it’s like for a child in care.
And Being Billy? It was like Tracey Beakeramplified.
There were two scenes in particular (the bowling alley and the house at the end, if you’ve read this) that I’m sure will stick with me for a long time. They were so powerful and it was often difficult to read it because they felt so raw. But it never felt gratuitous. As the events unfolded I could always tell that Mr Earle knew what he was talking about. I knew that he wasn’t just thinking “Right, OK, I’m writing a book about a SERIOUS SUBJECT and it has to be horrendously sad and my readers have to be in floods of tears”. He was telling Billy’s story as it was, with no extra trimmings.
So did I cry? I hear you ask.
And when I say maybe I really mean yes. Multiple times.

Anyway enough about me, let’s talk about Billy. He was such a colourful character even if he wasn’t always likeable. But sometimes they’re the best ones, aren’t they? There were so many times I wanted to reach into the pages and throttle him. Was he frustrated, angry, unreasonable? Our Billy was all of the above. But I still loved him.
He had an extremely British self-deprecating and dry humour that was hilarious but also ridiculously sad. No fourteen year old should have the material to master a self-deprecating sense of humour. But unfortunately Billy does. I don’t want to go into the specifics because of spoilers, but when the events of his past are finally revealed it isn’t surprising that he is the way he is. He’s disillusioned with life. He doesn’t trust people when they say they want to help. He feels that he has been given up on by every single ‘responsible’ adult that was supposed to be taking care of him. And he has anger that he can’t control without being restrained by The Colonel.
I’m 99% sure that Mr Earle didn’t have an agenda in mind when he wrote this book but regardless, he has written an extremely affective book that wasn’t only compelling but also incredibly harrowing.

My favourite relationships in young adult books are between siblings. Wait… I’m not talking about in a creepy and illegal Forbidden way, but I mean the connections between siblings. I always think that, when done right, a relationship between siblings can be more powerful than a love interest and it makes me sad that siblings hardly get a look in in fiction. Luckily, Mr Earle knows how to do it right. Billy’s relationship with Lizzie and Louie was one of the most touching aspects of this book and every time the three of them were together I just wanted to gather them into my arms and cuddle them and pray that everything was going to be OK for them.
Also, make muffins made in orange skins. Because they sound DELICIOUS if you ignore the slight possibility of getting salmonella. I would like that recipe.
For… um… research. Blogging research…

And also snaffling them.

I want to say it was a happy ending, but it wasn’t. Normally I hate happy endings because, to me, there is nothing worse than an overly saccharine ending that would never happen in real life. But I wanted there to be a happy ending with this book because I wanted to know that Billy was definitely going to OK. I wanted to know that all his flaws and insecurities would be eliminated by a glorious ending where all the characters get together and sing or do an interpretative dance or something. But no. I got a realistic ending and it’s one that’s almost hopeful. I have faith in Billy. Not sure how much that means for I am just a lowly book reviewer but I believe he’ll be OK when he gets to the end of his story. This book is just the first chapter in his story, though. That’s what I reckon, anyway.
He’s a tough nut, our Billy is, and he’s a fighter.

Before I wrap this review up, I just want to say how much I want to go on and on about how much I loved Daisy and how much of a fantastic character she is… but I’ve just discovered that Mr Earle has given her her own book. So I’ll just wait, because there is 100% chance that I will be reading Saving Daisy within the next few weeks.

Read this book.
Go on.
Have I ever steered you wrong?
*flutters eyelashes*

10 thoughts on “Review: Being Billy – Phil Earle

  1. Ooh, great review! This one has been on my bookshelf for months now. I think I was worried that it’d be a little “issues” led, like watching a channel five afternoon melodrama (not that I do, ahem) but I’m glad to hear that this is not the case at all and that Billy is a complicated character. Not sure about the muffins made in orange skins though…

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about books being ‘issue’ books. I’m so wary of them but this one isn’t like that at all.
      Channel Five afternoon melodramas, you say? They sound… interesting. For.. um, research purposes.


  2. I know what you mean about the whole sibling thing – was thinking the other day about how so many YA protagonists are sibling free and wondering why there is a trend for this. But, yes, I must read this. When I haven’t read UKYA for a while a need a good dose of self-deprecating humour.Nobody does it quite like us!
    Great review, as always :)

    • Thanks lovely woman.
      I think you’d really love this one, Anna. I’m on a bit of a UKYA kick at the moment and I have to say it’s SO GOOD. :D

      I hope you get chance to read it soon!

  3. Right on about the sibling relationship. They definitely don’t get enough play in YA books. It’s all about the friend groups when really, so many of our best friends are our siblings. Even in high school, my brother would wait after school for me and we’d get a slice of pizza before soccer practice or my sister and I would hang out. The main character seem to often be only children when I knew/know very few only children:-/ Anyway, this sounds like it is my kind of thing. Forbidden really wasn’t that great an experience for me but I think I’ll love this. I wish we’d read it together!

  4. Pingback: Review: Saving Daisy – Phil Earle. « weartheoldcoat

  5. Great review Jo! I loved Billy’s relationship with his siblings in this, it was just gorgeous. I really hope this isn’t the last we hear of Billy…

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