Melvin Burgess writes the kind of books that grab you by the throat, shake you around and don't let you go until they have finished with you. His latest book, Kill All Enemies is no exception to the rule, and is one of the best books I have read this year. My review will appear on The Book Zone soon, but in the meantime here is a brilliant guest piece that Melvin has written for us as part of his blog tour. Billie is one of the characters Kill All Enemies, which tells the stories of three young people who just do not fit in at school for various reasons and eventually find themselves sent to the local PRU (Pupil Referral Unit). Melvin Burgess spent a large amount of time interviewing young people at centres like this, and so some of his story is based upon the real life experiences of the teenagers he met.
Billie was a pretty girl, with a quick smile. There something slightly blurred about her skin, which I wondered later might have been made by many small scars. Because Billie was hard – hard as nails. She’d spent years kicking the hell out of everything that moved. Violent, dangerous – and a leader too. There’s a story of how she had a fight with girl, and got half the school out early to go and have a proper war with another school down the road – running into the crowd with her tie round her head as a bandana, like Rambo. There was another story about the time she stamped on some boy’s balls at the Tranmere, for pulling her trousers down.
There was a kind of glory in it. She was the cock of the school. A warrior.
Her story was a harsh one. The eldest of six, her mother had been on the bottle and so she’d spent a good part of her childhood as the main career for her brothers’ and sisters. She was trying, in other words, to hold the family together. Being effectively the mother of six at that age is hard enough – imagine doing it when you have to go to school as well. One of the things she found hardest was the way she was treated like a naughty kid at school, when in the main part of her life, she was having to behave like a particularly responsible adult. School, of course, rather went down the pan. Billie had other priorities – like trying to keep the family together and caring for the people she loved.
She might have asked for help – but of course she couldn’t, because as soon as anyone found out, the whole pack of cards would come falling down. The Social Services would come in, the kids would go into care, Mum would be taken away – she would have failed them. So she did her best to keep it all going, all on her own.
But of course the Social did find out in the end. Her step dad started knocking her mum and the kids around when he got drunk. In they came and it all happened just as she knew it would – kids into care, mum into detox; that was it.
I guess in her own eyes, Billie had failed.
Time heals a great deal, of course. Her mum dried out and the kids were taken out of care and the family was reunited- only, not all of it. There was one kid Mum didn’t want to take back. Billie.
How hard is that?
She spent the next few years kicking the world to pieces. It’s really pretty difficult to blame her.
Billie’s story isn’t unique, by any means. A lot of people would go down under that sort of pressure but somehow, Billie managed to pull herself out of it.
Billie attended the Tranmere center that I was talking about yesterday at Wondrous Reads. She formed a close relationship with Lisa, who ran the Personal development sessions, and I really think it was through those sessions that Billie got a grip on herself. The truth is, this was a girl who put her whole life on hold to keep her family together. How responsible is that? How loyal is that? That’s the kind of girl she was. Behind the scowl and the fights was someone who would do everything she could for those she loved and those who were important to her. It was just a question of getting through. And through those PD sessions, they did.
Quite a thing – and Billie was quite a person. She was charismatic, strong willed, clever and loving. That person could so easily have got lost along the line, but Billie had the strength with a bit of help, to pull herself out of the hat. I’m quite certain that with the right start in life, Billie could have risen to the top of any tree she cared to climb – but after a childhood like her’s, you’re along way behind a lot of your contemporaries in terms of education and financial stability. But emotionally – what an achievement – to come from such a start and turn yourself into what I saw that day; a genuine and loving person.
Way to go, Billie! I find more to admire in her than in almost anyone I know.
Huge thanks to Melvin for taking the time to write this for The Book Zone. Tomorrow his tour will continue at the Hay Fever Blog, so please do head on over there to fins out more about his story. My review will be appearing on The Book Zone fairly soon, but in the meantime you can read what Tony Bradman at the Guardian thought about Kill All Enemies here.