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Book Review: Being Billy by Phil Earle

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? (From

I hadn’t heard anything about Being Billy until it dropped through my letterbox, but as soon as I read the synopsis I knew it was going to be an important read for me.

Being Billy follows the story of Fourteen-year-old Billy Finn. He’s grown up in care for the last eight years after his alcoholic mother, Annie, chose his abusive stepfather over him. The only real constant in his life are his 10 year old brother and sister, who have also spent the majority of their life in the children’s home, and carer Ron, or the colonel as Billy calls the tough and regimented ex-army soldier. Billy’s angry and doesn’t care who knows it, but the social workers are warning him he’s on his last chance at the kid’s home. The last thing Billy wants is to be taken away from the twins who rely heavily on him, but with Annie having turned a new leaf and the twins spending more and more time with her it looks like his worst fears are about to come true. Is Billy about to loose it one time too many?

Wow. This book was intense indeed. Right from the very start Phil Earle creates in Billy a character so full of depth and complexities and so perfectly crafted it’s impossible to not think of him as a real person and become completely involved with his story.

Everything about this story rings true. Phil Earle worked in the care sector before he moved into book related jobs and this more than shows. He gets how a child in care really does feel; something I don’t believe just comes from the job itself but from a person who sees beyond it. Having experience of local authority care myself many years ago I recognised Billy: the anger, fear, distrust, vulnerability and feelings of hatred at others and himself.

What was especially fascinating with this book was seeing Billy’s relationships, which in turn allow the reader to see him from very different angles. With his mother he is resentful, distant and angry, with the twins he is caring, gentle and protective while the other kids at the home provoke a nasty and violent reaction. Then there’s the relationship with Daisy, new girl at school and fellow child of the care system. Here we see him unsure but hopeful and for the first time opening up to another person.

My favourite relationship however was with Ron, Billy’s long-term care worker at the home and pretty much the only consistent adult in his life. Seeing this relationship develop was just stunning. Billy detests Ron as he represents everything about the system he so hates being a part of. As we read from Billy’s perspective throughout the book I felt pretty much the same way about him to begin with, until little things are dropped in which slowly gives the reader a bigger picture and had me urging Billy to see what was right there in front of him. This relationship had me brimming with tears more than once.

Being Billy isn’t an easy read, far from it. However it is a book that should be read. This is an emotional book, one that will really make you stop and think and get right under your skin. It’s gripping from the first page and by the end you will be sure these characters actually do exist and care deeply for them. I felt every injustice Billy endures and was thinking about him long after the last page. Possibly one of the most realistic books I’ve read for a long time, I highly recommend it. 

Published January 2011 by Penguin

Thanks to the publishers for providing an advance review copy.


  1. Wow terrific review Vicki. I love how you pointed out how the various relationships allowed you insight into Billy's character. This sounds like a book I would definitely enjoy reading myself. Thanks

  2. Beautiful review. I haven't read this one yet. I know that I have to but I feel I need to prepare myself. I imagine it will turn me into an emotional wreck.



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