Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Review: Being Billy - Phil Earle

Published: January 6th 2011, Puffin
Pages: 262 pages, paperback (ARC)
Series?: Nope, this one's a standalone
Acquired: Sent for review

Summary (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?

My review: Wow – I honestly cannot believe Being Billy is a debut novel. The writing is first class and I was moved from beginning to end. I am officially in love with this book.

Being Billy touches on a subject I haven’t read about much in YA literature – children in a care home. Earle writes with a stark honesty and it’s quite clear he knows his subject matter inside out. Some of the little stories within Being Billy’s pages can only be real life anecdotes and they really help to bring the book alive. The one that springs to my mind now is the story of the hotel biscuits!

I read Being Billy in a single sitting on Christmas Eve while I was waiting for my working day to come to an end. Yes, I had finished my work for the day so was allowed to read, I wasn’t pulling some incognito ninja page turning under the desk, rest assured. Embarrassingly enough I cried not once, not twice but THRICE while reading this book. Luckily none of my work pals noticed, or if they did they were kind enough not to ask why I was huddled behind my desk weeping.

For me the garage scene on Billy’s birthday is the runaway show stealer of the book. Absolutely beautifully written and so emotionally charged, I dare any of you to make it through without a sniffle or two. For me this was the turning point that made Being Billy go from being a great book to one of my favourites. Yup, instant classic right here.

Billy is a complex but loveable character. Years of terrible treatment at the hands of his mother and alcoholic stepfather have forced him to keep his emotions hidden and his guard permanently up. He cares about nothing in life but his nine year old twin siblings, who are clearly his only reason for being. It was lovely to see the way Billy interacted with the twins as we saw a much softer side to his personality. His blossoming friendship with Daisy was great as well and I really warmed to her as a character – she reminded me a little of Caro from the Zelah Green books (which is a good thing).

Phil Earle is definitely one to watch, I’m so impressed that this is his first book and I cannot wait to see what he brings to the table next. So tomorrow morning I strongly suggest you rush off to your nearest bookshop now and spend some of that Christmas cash on Being Billy because it’s an absolutely corker.

First line: ‘The light in the hall gives the game away.’

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 17/20 (A)

Other links:
Author's website
Author’s blog
Goodreads page link
Book Depository link


  1. Yay I'm so glad you loved this one too. I'm with you on the garage scene on Billy's birthday. That was the turning point for me too, only I cried non-stop from Billy's birthday onwards. There was no way I would have been able to read this book in public. My husband was sitting in bed with me looking at me like I was an alien for having such an emotional reaction.

  2. Hello Carly, thanks for spreading the word about Billy, and I'm delighted you enjoyed it.
    The garage scene is a real favourite of mine too.
    I grew up utterly addicted to the Rocky films (I know, a guilty pleasure!) so I loved writing it.
    I read it to a group of year 7's and 8's, and they seemed to enjoy it too....

    In case you're interested I have a website now, it'd be great if you could point folk there!
    again, thanks so much....

  3. I am definitely looking forward to reading this one. I can imagine how emotional it will be for me. I always get emotional where kids are going through "stuff". I am excited that you loved the quality of the writing too.

  4. It was a gripping book, that had all my emotions going. I fell in love with all the characters and even after reading the book, I am still thinking about it. I adored this book and thought it was very well written.

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  5. Being Billy is an incredible story, one that will break your heart one minute but have you laughing out loud the next. It will make you appreciate everything you've got and it might even make you think twice about the actions of some of the kids you used to go to school with. One thing it will definitely do is stay with you. I found myself thinking about Billy many times after I finished the book because he just feels so real to me, he is a young boy you could meet in pretty much any town in England and he wormed his way into my heart and made himself at home there. I can't recommend Being Billy highly enough and I can't wait to read more from Phil Earle.

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Thank you kindly for the comment, you sweet thing.