Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* At the very moment the bombs of the next war began exploding on the island of Blinkbonny, a child was born: Billy Dean, whose birth was seen by his priest father as a miracle. Hoping to raise a saint, his father ordains that the boy be brought up in secret. Then, when Billy is 13, a family calamity forces him to take his first steps into the light. From the first page, readers will know they're in the presence of a master of dialect—"He grew up with birds & mise as friends. He wos a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing." Almond's command of Billy's struggling English is a tour-de-force, even when the plot wanders away from full engagement. It is, at least, a passionately unusual story, involving Billy's "speshal site," which is co-opted by a local spirit medium. Soon Billy is a reluctant "Ayngle Childe," whose fame as a healer begins to spread off of the island. Throughout, Almond's details are fierce and bizarre, from the "book" Billy crafts from rat skins to the fragments of a Jesus statue he and his mother uncover from church ruins. Both of Billy's parents are powerful characters—one of light, one of darkness—and, of course, there is Billy himself, an absolutely unforgettable creation. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: 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. Expect raves, then demands. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Billy grows up locked away with his mother by his philandering priest father. Outside is Blinkbonny, a bombed-out town on Britain's northeast coast. When his father disappears, Billy emerges as "the Aynjel Childe," a medium. Almond's earthy mysticism is made potent by uneducated Billy's poetic imagination and phonetic spelling in the text ("The pensil wanders across the payper lyk a little beest creepin hoaplesly across the rubbl...").

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Almond presents his own post-apocalyptic take on our world: "This tail is told by 1 that died at birth by 1 that came into the world in days of endles war & at the moment of disaster. He grew in isolayshon wile the enjins of destrucshon flew & smoke rose over the sitys." Almond's story amounts to a saint's life (complete with allusions to the medieval Life of St. Cuthbert): Billy grows up a secret child, locked in a tiny room with his mother, visited infrequently by his father, a philandering priest. Outside is Blinkbonny, a bombed-out town on Britain's northeast coast, home of "treshur hunters" and the bereaved. When Billy's father disappears for good, Billy emerges as "the Aynjel Childe," a medium who contacts the dead and heals the living. 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. deirdre f. bake Copyright 2014 Horn Book Magazine.

Kirkus Reviews

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) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection

Like many Almond books, this is magical, mystical, mysterious, and meaningful. It is also extremely difficult to read as it is written phonetically with a British accent, by a boy kept hidden in a single room until age 13. Billy was born the exact moment the town of Blinkbonny was bombed; Missus Malone, the midwife, believes Billy might be the savior of the world and must remain hidden. In his childlike and self-taught writing Billy conveys his wonder at the little bit of the world he can see. Under Malone's tutelage he does become a savior, until the evil that has been haunting him his whole life shockingly rips open his world. Because I found it difficult to slog through the spelling, sometimes having to reread lines, my concern is that only the most persistent readers will stick with it. Sharon Hamer, Librarian, Belmonte Middle School, Saugus, Massachusetts [Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] Recommended Copyright 2014 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

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."

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School Library Journal Reviews

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

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Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Billy Dean's life has been spent in a solitary room with a door that he is forbidden to use. His mother comes to visit regularly; his father, sporadically. Billy wants more than anything to make them proud, but when his father is teaching him to read, he lets slip that he thinks Billy is an abomination, a monster. Eventually his father stops coming around all together and Billy's Mam decides it is time to bring Billy out into society. The world Billy finds is a town of misery and grief, never having recovered from a terrorist attack that coincided with his birth. With the attentions of kindly butcher, Mr. McCaufrey, and the unstable Mrs. Malone, Billy is pressed into service as a speaker to the dead and comforter of the living. But someone thinks Billy should have been kept a secret, and is determined to make him a memory Almond's first book for adult (and young adult) audiences is darkly gripping and rife with foreboding. The horror of Billy's life is revealed in mortifying scenes: skinning mice to use their hides as paper, the discovery that his father was the parish priest who seduced a young orphan. Billy's writing and cadence are consistent with a person who has received no formal education and only knows the world from the peculiar and narrow view of one who has been brought up with half-stories and lies. 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 (Little, Brown, 2010).—Katie Mitchell 4Q 2P S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.