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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Billy Finn's been in care for most of his life - taken from a mother who battled alcohol abuse problems and a step-father who physically abused him. He hates the "scummers" (social workers) who sell him lies and platitudes, hates his mother for giving him up for adoption, hates the couple who wanted to adopt him without understanding him, hates school for giving up on him, hates himself for being unable to articulate all the anger inside him. Although he lashes out at the other lifers in his care home and at the carers there - particularly the Colonel, Ronnie, who constantly sticks his nose into Billy's business - he keeps himself together around his twin brother and sister, Louie and Lizzie, determined that they won't lose out in the same way he has.

Then Billy's mother, Annie, decides that she wants the twins back, leaving Billy devastated.

The more he tries to keep himself together for their sake, the more he threatens to fall apart. But then he meets Daisy. A lifer like him, he finds himself drawn to her, experiencing a genuine connection for the first time only to find that Daisy has secrets of her own, which can cost him everything ...

Phil Earle's debut novel is an extraordinary, powerful and unpatronising look at the life of teenagers in care. This is no liberal apology for the disadvantaged - what makes it such an excellent read is that Billy is a completely flawed and damaged person, lashing out at people and property for the sake of releasing the anger within him, even though it ultimately hurts him more. Demotivated at school because he's not been there enough to keep up with the work, utterly cynical about the social workers and aware of their fear of him and what he's capable of, he's wonderfully brought to life on the page, frustrating and heart breaking in equal measure. His relationships with Daisy and Ronnie are well depicted and I loved the scenes with him and the twins - the only people he really loves enough to change for.

The f-bomb gets used in the text but it's not gratuitous. If anything, I would have liked to see it more, if only because kids like Billy tend to use it as punctuation.

All in all, this was a wonderful contemporary story that makes you think, makes you cry and ultimately makes you hope.
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on 20 March 2017
Being Billy is a lovely, haunting YA tear-jerker of a book, about a lonely, angry boy who has been living in care for a long time. It put me in mind in some ways of The Machine Gunners, by Robert Westall, and I can pay no higher a compliment than that. I know Phil. He was working at Simon & Schuster when I signed up with them a few years ago, and I developed an instant liking for him -- a top bloke. I always worry about reading a book by someone I know. I log my scores for every book that I read over on Goodreads, and I always score a book honestly. If I read a book by a friend and hate it, and give it a 1 star review, and that friend finds out about it... well, negative reviews never make much of an impact on me personally, but some writers aren't as thick-skinned as me, and something like that could drive a very strong wedge between us. But every so often I take a chance of ruining a friendship regardless, and plunge into a book by an acquaintance or buddy. Luckily that's not an issue in this instance, as I loved the book and rated it a firm 5/5 stars. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2011
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.
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on 24 May 2011
I'll say upfront that this is not normally the type of book I would pick up - I'd assume it was issue-led and over-serious. Yet it's neither. It's enormously readable, sometimes funny, and it really stays with you after you finish it. Billy's voice is powerful and convincing, yet he's always a teenager - there's no adult author over his shoulder. I think that's what impressed me most. With a first-person narrative, how does an author maintain our sympathy for this angry and sometimes violent boy while he develops and changes? (Let's be honest, if we saw him in the street, we'd probably cross the road!) How does he convey the bigger picture while never letting the focus slip from Billy's view? Phil Earle manages both of these things, apparently effortlessly. As Billy matures, and his view of the world develops, so does ours, and I genuinely cared about Billy. As an adult, I had the same frustrations as Ronnie, Billy's key worker, in wanting the best for Billy - but it's next on my son's reading pile now, and I am intrigued to know whether he will see Billy differently, as a fellow 14-year-old.
I should add that, having read the book ahead of a literary festival, I also thought Phil Earle made a great speaker! I would guess he'd be brilliant with a roomful of teenagers and so I'd recommend him as well as his book, if you're an English teacher or school librarian.
Looking forward to the next book ...
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 March 2013
You care for Billy and are led to understand why he behaves the way he does. His brotherly love for the twins is moving, the way he changes his opinion of his key worker Ronnie realistic and heart-warming.
Very good YA book.
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on 2 January 2011
Having worked in residential care I believe this book highlights the issues faced by young people in care and the issues faced by the staff working there. Phil Earle manages to write in a a way that makes you feel you are there. I loved this book and once started I wanted to read more. I hope there's more to come from Phil Earle.
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Being Billy is a book that I've been meaning to read for a long time now, it's come highly recommended by most of my favourite UKYA bloggers and now that I've finally read it I can completely understand why they all rave about it. It's incredibly impressive to think that this was Phil Earle's debut novel and I'm excited that I already have copies of his next three books because I can't wait to dive into them.

Billy is an angry young man, something that isn't really surprising considering everything he's been through, he has spent eight years living in care and he feels that nobody really cares about him. The staff may act like they care but they're getting paid to look after him and he's sure they all forget about him the moment they're no longer on the clock. The only constants in Billy's life are his younger siblings, Lizzie and Louie, and Billy would do anything to make sure they are safe and cared for. He's pretty much given up on himself but he wants the best for them so when social services threaten to separate them unless he starts to behave himself he knows he's going to have to try and do something about his temper.

This story absolutely broke my heart, Billy is such an incredibly realistic character (you can really tell that the author has experience as a Care Worker) and his story really makes you think. It's painful to think of the thousands of children who are in Billy's position, children who haven't had the best start in life and who have been rejected or abused by the people who are supposed to love them the most. It's no wonder that some of these kids fight back to get attention or just don't know how to deal with their anger in a healthy way. Billy has no outlet for his feelings so his temper can be explosive but it was incredibly easy to sympathise with him.

What I loved most was seeing how Billy changes from a young man with the world on his shoulder who thinks that everyone is out to get him. It isn't easy but eventually he starts to understand that people do care about him and that they want what is best not just for him but also for Lizzie and Louie too. I also loved seeing his friendship with Daisy develop and I'm excited that we're going to learn more about her in Saving Daisy. I think the thing I probably enjoyed the most was Billy's interactions with the carer Ronnie. Ronnie was a hard taskmaster who didn't let Billy get away with anything but he took the time to build a bond between them. It was obvious how much Ronnie cared about the whole family and even though it took Billy a long time to realise that seeing the change in Billy when he finally did was incredibly rewarding. I have the utmost admiration for carers, it must be one of the most emotionally draining and difficult jobs out there but at times it must be one of the most rewarding ones too.

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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on 23 December 2010
Being Billy is a fantastic piece of storytelling. The narrative really hooks you in from the first page, the characters are very well crafted and the story is very powerful. I can't believe this book is a debut. Phil Earle has a fantastic writing carear ahead of him.
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A young adult novel about 14 year old Billy who lives in a care home. The author really 'gets' the abandonment that children in care experience and through a good story explains where some of the aggression comes from and how difficult forming relationships can be.
Billy's life revolves around social workers, case reviews and feeling so defensive he won't let anyone get close to him, however he does have a soft spot; his younger siblings who look up to him. The other character central to the story is Ronnie, aka 'The Colonel'. He is Billy's care worker in the children's home and the role model he desperately needs. Billy's having none of it though and Ronnie seems to be fighting a losing battle in trying to get Billy to trust him. The author manages to make both views both understandable and believable; getting across the unacceptable but often misunderstood side of youth aggression and reinforcing just how precarious young lives are.
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on 20 November 2011
Being Billy was a very realistic book. It is clear from the beginning that Phil Earle has previously worked in care - the authenticity of Billy and the relationships he has with others is incredible. Though I didn't find Billy completely endearing, I found him to be a very interesting character and I could see where he was coming from in a lot of his thoughts and I could admire the fact that he knew he wasn't perfect and had made mistakes. I adored Billy's relationship with his siblings as it showed a more sensitive, paternal side of him. His relationship with Ron also made for a very strong feature in the story. I didn't see the twist coming which made for a really big shock - it was certainly effective and emotive. I can't say that this book completely grabbed my attention, it didn't have me desperate to read on, but it all felt very true to life which is the real quality of this book.
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