What we thought: This is an emotionally charged coming-of-age tale which takes you on a switchback ride through the young life of Billy McErlane, christened Zappa. Born with less of a silver spoon and more of a shit sandwich, Billy has to make his own decisions – starting with his change of name – based on his innate moral code. Because there’s no way he’s going to follow his mother and he couldn’t follow his dad if he wanted to.
He’s a bright boy and works hard, fending off pressure to succumb to his family, spending hours in the library, refusing to conform to the stereotype. He writes essays and wins a competition. His future’s looking bright, until the estate where he lives brings him down, and he’s sent to a Young Offenders’ Institution.
Billy uses his brain and his physicality to stay out of trouble and sometimes to create it. He signs up for a photography course and his life starts to change.
The book follows Billy and his influences; some adults who want to help, others who want to help themselves, and it shows a young man trying to make sense of an unfair world.
It’s sad, uplifting, shocking, funny, hopeful and frustrating. The narrator’s voice is touching and honest. One of the most striking things is the close up observation of detail filtered through one individual’s interpretation: the Billy Lens. This book so absorbed me that navigating Heathrow Airport was a breeze. Yes, that good.
You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers, Feral Youth by Polly Courtney, Raven by Thomas Strittmatter
Avoid if you dislike: violence, sex, blunt language
Ideal accompaniments: roast beef and horseradish sandwich, Beaujolais Nouveau and Tricky’s Product of the Environment
Genre: General fiction
Available from Amazon