It's not just fans of the film Billy Elliot
that are going to love this book. The choice of Melvin Burgess
to novelise the hugely successful Billy Elliot
screenplay by Lee Hall
is inspirational and yields its own rewards beyond the obvious one of revisiting, with compulsive detail, the story of Billy's ballet passion as seen on film.
Burgess is already a much-admired author of several significant books featuring disaffected youth and gutsy teenage drama like Junk and Bloodtide. His interpretation of Billy Elliot, written with additional character insights and advice about unused film scenes as supplied by Lee Hall, has the effect of it almost reading like a sequel - there's so much more to read about, so much more of Billy's motivation and family background on display.
The story of Billy Elliot told in the book is sometimes brutal, with its aptly gritty dialogue, yet it is also engrossing, emotional and well-told. It was all of these qualities to the beat of a foot-tapping soundtrack that made the film a massive international hit. Set against the backdrop of the mining strikes that gripped Britain in the early Eighties, Burgess reveals Billy to be an honest northern lad who doesn't like his politically-obsessed, bullying elder brother, nor the fact that his mam died of Cancer two years previously. He especially doesn't like the way his dad won't let him do ballet instead of boxing.
Billy's good at something for the first time in his life and he won't give it up easily, despite his immediate family's perilous financial woes. The strike is biting and his dad goes bonkers when he finds out about Billy's private dance tuition -- so the air is understandably filled with tensions aplenty. His mates are ribbing him at school about his dancing. His brother is at his father's throat because they disagree about how to settle the strike. His nana, who could have been a professional dancer, is going increasingly senile. There's lots to resolve if Billy's life is to start running more smoothly.
Burgess tells the story of the film to great effect from his trademark multiple viewpoints. He gets under the skin of each character in turn and lays them bare as they each get involved more deeply in the unfolding story of Billy's passion. From anybody but Melvin Burgess, a novelisation of Billy Elliot might not have been a book worth paying a whole lot of attention to. As it stands, its an indispensable slice of teenage life that's definitely worth reading, and keeping, and which will probably stay around at least as long as memories of it's big screen inspiration. (Age 12 and over) --John McLay
"Floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee!" -Sarah Bailey, "Elle"
"Poised to sweep the world off its feet!" -Michael Rechtshaffen, "Hollywood Reporter"
"If you're making up a ten best list of films this year, you'll only need nine more!" -Brandon Judell, "Detour"
--This text refers to an alternate