Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Billy" by Albert French

Every once in a while, you come across a book that emotionally guts you. It makes you angry, sad, and happy all at the same time, all for different reasons. When I read this book, I was angry this had actually happened. I was sad, not for the characters, but for the people behind them. I was happy- very happy that I chose to pick this up on one of my thrift store jaunts.

One of the things I love about this book is it doesn't portray just one side of the story. It would've been easier to say the white people in this tale were inhuman monsters and didn't deserve to be shown as humans: what kind of person could allow a little boy to be executed, period? Every character within this story has their place, but they all are painted with flaws and strengths.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Albert French's harrowing debut novel of 10-year-old Billy Lee Turner, convicted and executed for murdering a white girl in Baines, Mississippi, in 1937, is an unsentimental and ultimately heartrending vision of racial injustice.'

The folksy way this book is written takes some getting used to. Although I quickly adjusted, some people on Goodreads felt this book was too dramatic with it, but with this book's plot being based on a true story, I didn't feel it was too dramatic. It's kind of odd that I felt that way with Beloved, yet this book felt more real (possibly the lack of heavy magical realism).

Another standout in this book is the setting. I've never been to a small town in Mississippi circa 1937 (my time machine isn't exactly functional yet) but if I had, I believe it would be a lot like Mr. French describes. Even beyond the visual descriptions, he describes what it sounds like, smells like, to make you feel like you're there. To me, that takes a lot of talent.

Although Billy does rank as one of my favorite characters, his mother Cinder is my favorite of this book. When she is described, you can see her so clearly- her posture, her expression, everything- that she stays with you when the novel is finished.

Here's an example of that:

"Cinder pushes herself up, pushes Katey away, and throws her eyes back into the sheriff's face. Her hair hangs over her cheeks, blood seeps from her lip and nose, the skin on her cheekbone is scraped raw, but still she stares."

        ~Billy by Albert French, page 64 paperback edition

Billy is a novel you wish was entirely fictional, and had no link to real life events. I would even say it's impossible to read it cover to cover without shedding a tear. But by recounting and humanizing the people within, Mr. French has truly made a lasting impression on me. I recommend this book to everyone.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an extraordinarily powerful book about racial injustice.

Content: Ages 16+ for racism, violence, and hate crimes.

Page Count: 214 pages in my paperback edition

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