Title: Billy Elliot
Author: Melvin Burgess
Publication date: 2 April, 2001
Publisher: Chicken House
Length: 155 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
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Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository
Set in northern England during the 1984 miners’ strike, Billy Elliot tells the story of a young working class boy who chooses not to follow his widowed father’s instructions to train to be a boxer. Instead, fascinated by the ballet class sharing the same building as his gym, Billy hangs up his gloves to pursue dreams of being a dancer. But even as he discovers his virtuoso gift for ballet he must hide his triumph from his father and brother – both miners on strike struggling to keep food on the table.
Based on the original screenplay by Lee Hall, this novel by award-winning teen author Melvin Burgess has captured the spirit of the original film and the now sell-out musical.
The reason why I picked up this book is that Billy Elliot is one of my all time favourite films and I was really intrigued by the fact that it’s been released as a novel. Since it’s related to my thesis work I’ll have to start working on in the next few weeks and it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, I decided to combine work with pleasure and read Melvin Burgess’s novel. To be honest, I found Billy’s narration quite strange at first and I thought it wouldn’t live up to my expectations after all – but I couldn’t be further from the truth. Burgess’s novel is just as good, if not better, than the film and I was in tears all the way to the end.
What I loved about it the most is the fact that it’s narrated by several different people. Most of the time it’s Billy who’s speaking but there are chapters that are told by either Billy’s father, brother, or his friend Michael. I loved the contrast between these chapters, especially those of the father’s and his two children. The way we see things from a twelve-year-old’s point of view at first and then from an adult’s is just brilliant. Billy’s father was definitely my favourite character and I really enjoyed reading the story from his perspective as well. It was actually one of the reasons why I eventually found the book even more touching than the film. The way he describes what he feels about his wife, how poverty-stricken they are and how he can’t do anything to build a better future for his sons, how he’s ready to sacrifice himself and give up everything just to make at least one of their dreams come true is very touching.
However, there are two things I should mention – rather as an advice than something negative- in connection with the book. The first one is that even though it’s a young adult book, it contains strong language therefore it might not be suitable for everyone. The other thing is that, I think, you really need to have some sort of background information about Thatcher’s reign and this era in order to fully understand what Billy and his family are going through, what the strike is about and what state their town is in at the time.
All in all, Melvin Burgess’s novel is a fantastic read you don’t want to miss, whether or not you’ve seen the film before. It’s a tear-jerking tale about hope, sacrifice, love and devotion and I can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with it even if you’re not familiar with the story yet. It’s a definite must-read.
“He’s an idiot, my brother, I hate him. He’s got good taste in music, though. He always listens to it on his headphones when I’m around so’s I can’t hear it. Like he owns the air or something. He’d wrap the music up and stick it up his arse if he could.”