A boy named Billy Dean—born at the very moment terrorists blew up his town, starting World War III—narrates this mesmerizing post-apocalyptic tale from Carnegie- and Printz-winner Almond. Written in a difficult Geordie dialect, further complicated by Billy's phonetic spellings, the novel speaks feelingly to the love between parent and child, as well as the harm parents can do. Billy Dean's mother, Veronica, was seduced by the local priest; amid the carnage of the "day of doom" on which Billy is born, Father Wilfred persuades Veronica to lock the newborn in a secret back room of her small house to cover up the priest's indiscretion. Billy Dean doesn't emerge from hiding until age 13, slowly acclimating to a crumbling and unfamiliar world: "I am dazzld by the sky that has no end to it & by the numba of things that lie owt ther. I watch the way the breez moves through the rubbl & lifts the dust & how it blows the foliaj of the trees that gro up through the ruwins." Billy also begins to manifest strange gifts, such as contacting the dead and healing the sick, gaining a reputation as an "Ayngel Child." Eventually, people come from all over the region to beg Billy's aid or simply to worship him. Almond has much to say about the meaning of faith and the lack of it, and about the difference between a monster and a miracle worker. The bereaved and ill see the boy as little more than a shortcut to getting what they want, less a human being than a sort of miraculous vending machine. Even his most worshipful disciples are primarily interested in turning Billy into their vision of what he should be, rather than in seeing him for who he really is. And to Billy's father, lurking in the background, the boy is a very real monster whose mere existence endangers everything the faithless priest has worked for. Challenging, sometimes bloody, but completely rewarding, this is an intense story of betrayal, reconciliation, and triumph. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
Billy [is] an absolutely unforgettable creation. One of the most critically acclaimed YA authors working today, Almond refuses to rest on his laurels, and here he delivers his finest book in years.
—Booklist (starred review)
Skellig-creator Almond’s books are always mystical—close to the warm, dark heartbeats of man and beast—but this one, spelled mostly phonetically to show how Billy Dean might actually have written it, is perhaps even more raw, sensuous and savage. Dark, unsettling and fluid as water, Almond’s suspenseful tour de force considers the cycle of life, themes of war, God and godlessness, and, as ever, “How all things flow into each other.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] mesmerizing post-apocalyptic tale... [T]he novel speaks feelingly to the love between parent and child, as well as the harm parents can do.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Billy's ability to find surreal beauty in strange things, such as the dead mice he lovingly dissects in his room, hearkens back to Almond’s treatment of Skellig and Heaven Eyes, and the message is also similar: wonder and loveliness can be recovered from the ashes of the festering evil. Billy’s innocence doesn’t save him from that evil, but his steadfast ability to find goodness, beauty, love, and mystery in the darkest places lights the way forward, for himself and readers alike.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Almond’s earthy mysticism is made especially potent by uneducated Billy’s eccentric, phonetic spelling and poetic imagination. “The pensil wanders across the payper lyk a little beest creepin hoaplesly across the rubbl,” he writes of trying to shape the narrative of his own life—a story filled with Roman Catholic imagery, violence, affection, sorrow for the dead, and a profound, appreciative wonder for nature. Rich, dense, and memorable.
—The Horn Book
Like many of David Almond's novels, his latest dark masterpiece transcends the everyday world to exist in a mystical landscape all its own. ... The author challenges his readers with phonetic spellings, which, along with a deft use of magical realism, build a world that—like so many that Almond creates—is both darker and more wondrous than our own.
—Shelf Awareness for Readers
Darkly gripping and rife with foreboding. ... A dense and chilling read, it will appeal to older teens who liked "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner and "Room" by Emma Donoghue.
—The Horn Book
Like many Almond books, this is magical, mystical, mysterious, and meaningful.
—Library Media Connection
[A] postapocalyptic, psychological novel... The compelling story is told from Billy’s point of view and with the language and phonetic spelling of a child whose development has been stunted by his lifelong imprisonment.
—School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—The opening scenes of this postapocalyptic, psychological novel describing the protagonist's confinement in a small, locked room is strongly reminiscent of Emma Donoghue's adult title Room (Little, Brown, 2010). Billy Dean's mother was seduced by an unethical priest, and young Billy is forced to suffer the consequences of their affair by being kept hidden. The compelling story is told from Billy's point of view and with the language and phonetic spelling of a child whose development has been stunted by his lifelong imprisonment. Billy's mother provides what love she can, while his father fills his head with confusing stories and warnings and expectations that the boy struggles hopelessly to fulfill. When his father disappears, Billy's mother takes him out of the room, into a frightening world at war. He finds that other adults have their own confusing expectations of him. They want him to be a savior. But Billy is no more an angel, a healer, or a conduit to the voices of the dead than he is a messiah, and the day of reckoning is soon at hand. This challenging title demands to be read more than once, and even then it will leave questions unanswered.—Nancy Silverrod, San Francisco Public Library
Billy Dean is the forbidden child of a priest and a hairdresser, born in the English village of Blinkbonny on a day of terrible destruction and locked away for all his 13 years. Much to the chagrin of his tempestuous, estranged father, Billy Dean struggles with words: "He wos a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing." He's a lonely boy, longing for his father's rare visits, muddling through Bible stories, and scratching out letters and pictures on dried-out mouse skins with blood-mixed ink. When Billy's lovely Mam finally exposes her son to the war-ravaged "shattad payvments" of Blinkbonny, Billy is overwhelmed…and utterly wonderstruck. Local medium Missus Malone has her own plans for Billy, and as rumors spread of "The Aynjel Childe" and his power to cure the sick and speak to the dead, the boy becomes another kind of prisoner entirely. Skellig-creator Almond's books are always mystical--close to the warm, dark heartbeats of man and beast--but this one, spelled mostly phonetically to show how Billy Dean might actually have written it, is perhaps even more raw, sensuous and savage. Dark, unsettling and fluid as water, Almond's suspenseful tour de force considers the cycle of life, themes of war, God and godlessness, and, as ever, "How all things flow into each other." (Fiction. 14 & up)