Billy Dean has had quite an unorthodox upbringing. His world consists of four walls, some furniture, and other necessities. He spends his days in this room, often with his mother, and in the darkness of the night his father returns to cast a shadow over Billy Dean’s quite simple life. It was the chaos of the outside world, unbeknownst to Billy, which drove him to his confinement and forced him to be a “secret” child. He witnesses this destruction when he finally emerges from his miniscule world at the same time as those around him witness his powerful gifts. Many people believe that with these gifts Billy Dean can heal the world that was wrecked. But the burden of this new responsibility may destroy Billy worse than anything he can heal. With his newfound fame established, it is only inevitable that the evil of the world finds him, and unfortunately for him, evil is a figure all too familiar.
This book can only be titled as a work of pure genius. Although its phonetically spelled words and horrific grammar might be enough to drive some away, the rewards of reading it entirely are vastly nourishing. Not only is David Almond a master storyteller, but a true craftsman of fiction. Only he could write something that at face value looks completely illogical but actually chronicles the immense growth and progression in a child’s life. It is ingenious that with every passing chapter the spelling and grammar improve. It shows how Billy Dean grows and learns as a human being, while still reminding us of the completely flawed world in which he lives. We see him change and grow stronger through his writing, which as the story progresses improves. Another noteworthy part of this book is the point of view. Since a child narrates the book, we read it and imagine it as a child would. But what is so amazing about this is the way we are able to see so many evil and traumatic events unravel in this boy’s life. We, as more developed people, expect the same point of view that we would have if it were we living through these happenings. It’s as if we forget it’s a child narrating the story. But we are constantly reminded by David Almond’s brilliant writing of the natural innocence and trust that children have. And it is this trust and innocence that in some ways distorts what our point of view might have been in any of these situations. The book is a truly entertaining tale that can be simultaneously horrifying, mind-boggling, and tearful. Hats off to David Almond for this wonderful book.