Billy

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Overview

Albert French lights up the monstrous face of American racism in this harrowing tale of ten-year-old Billy Lee Turner, who is convicted of and executed for murdering a white girl in Banes County, Mississippi in 1937. Billy is about the deaths of two children, one girl, one boy, the girl's death an accident, the boy's a murder perpetrated by the state. Though the events Billy records occur during the 1930s in a small Mississippi town, the range of characters, emotions, and social forces, and the inexorable march ...
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Overview

Albert French lights up the monstrous face of American racism in this harrowing tale of ten-year-old Billy Lee Turner, who is convicted of and executed for murdering a white girl in Banes County, Mississippi in 1937. Billy is about the deaths of two children, one girl, one boy, the girl's death an accident, the boy's a murder perpetrated by the state. Though the events Billy records occur during the 1930s in a small Mississippi town, the range of characters, emotions, and social forces, and the inexorable march to doom of a ten-year-old boy and the society that dooms him, catapult the story far beyond a specific time and location. Narrated by an anonymous observer in the rich accents of the region, constructed in a series of powerfully lean vignettes, Billy imparts an intensity that is nearly unbearable. It is a tour de force of dramatic compression. Albert French evokes with cinematic vividness the picking fields and town streets; the heat, the dust, the unrelenting sun, the poverty of 1930s Mississippi. High-spirited Billy; his mysterious and passionate mother, Cinder; his friend, Gumpy; and other characters black and white are realized with depth and authority. Told in classic, unrelieved terms yet with remarkable compassion and restraint, their story is an unsentimental and ultimately heart-rending vision of racial injustice. Billy is, quite simply, one of the most powerfully affecting novels to come along in years.

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. "A work of art . . . Billy never lets up, not for one minute. . . . magnificent."--New York Daily News.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A talented writer makes his debut in this stark, harrowing novel of a young black boy's death. Forcefully told, though sometimes veering into melodrama, the story vivifies the consequences of racial hatred. In 1937, in the small town of Banes, Miss., 10-year-old Billy Lee Turner lives with his mother in one of the miserable shanties of the black ghetto called the Patch. Headstrong Billy convinces another youngster to enter the white area of town, where they are attacked by teenaged cousins who are enraged to see black boys in ``their'' pond. Seeking to escape, Billy impulsively stabs one of the girls; she dies, and the white community works itself into a paroxysm of rage and violence. Though Billy is too young to comprehend what he has done, he is sentenced to the electric chair. The insistent voice of the narrator--convincingly rural, unlettered, and lower class--propels the narrative at a frantic pace, and the characters are delineated through vernacular dialogue that reproduces the unvarnished racism of most of the white community and the routinely profane interchanges of the uneducated blacks. Though nearly every scene is rendered with high-glare intensity, the closing episodes set in the Death House are especially searing. If in his need to sustain a feverish atmosphere French scants subtleties, the novel pulses with its unnerving vision of inhumanity legalized under the name of justice. (Nov.)
Library Journal
This debut novel chronicles the life of ten-year-old Billy Lee, who is executed for murdering a white girl in the town of Banes, Mississippi, in 1937. The story is related objectively in a regional dialect by a narrator who takes us into our country's recent past to witness the appalling effects of racism. This masterful style portrays a brutal and, at times, pitiful small town caught in the grip of segregation. French's stirring focus on details affords an empathic perception of events and characters, especially of Sheriff Tom and Billy's mother, Cinder. The short scene when Billy is captured is a skillful example of French's fine detail and dazzling style. The harrowing prison scenes, the absurd complications experienced by the guards when they strap Billy's small body into the high-backed electric chair, and the riveting description of the execution will leave readers numb. Highly recommended for all libraries.-- David A. Berona, Westbrook Coll. Lib., Portland, Me.
Donna Seaman
This stunning first novel seems to have sprung full-blown from the red dirt of the land it portrays, hot and dusty rural Mississippi circa 1937. It's a blazing summer Saturday, and the black folks in Banes are happy not to be laboring in the fields. Billy Lee Turner, 10 years old and as mysterious and independent as his beautifully golden and regal mother Cinder, convinces his friend Gumpy to cross the railroad bridge that separates the black neighborhood from the homes of the whites. The boys can't resist wading in the cool pond on the Pasko property and are terrified when Lori, 15, red-haired, mean, and powerful, and her friend Jenny sneak up on them and beat them up. Gumpy escapes, but Lori has hurt Billy badly. When she finally lets him go, he stabs her in the chest. Lori's death is like a match to kindling. The sheriff can barely contain the mob of whites intent on revenge. The frightened boys are tried as adults in a trial based not on justice, but on blatant racism. This is an American tragedy, stark and resonant, told in a voice as unwavering as the August sun and as timeless as sorrow.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670850136
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2004

    wajoooow

    the book is so good. I read it many times, I like the way A. French explains every detail. He is just amazing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2003

    Excellent!!!!

    Once I started reading Billy I was unable to stop.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2003

    Wow!!!!!

    This is by far one of the most powerful books that I've read. You will cry for Billy long after you have finished the last page. Albert French produced a masterpiece.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2002

    quite the book by quite the author

    i was given this book back in 1995 and read it in one night. it shows the beauty and harshness of life within its pages. from cover to cover you feel like you're right there. Billy sucks you in and makes you want to read further and further.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2002

    Billy

    This book is the only book that ever made me cry. This is truely a great and realistic novel about racism in the 30ies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2001

    One Hard Book

    a very hard book to read. somewhat a little unbelievable at times (would they have really sent a 10 year old to the electric chair!) but very well written depicturing that period perfectly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2001

    Absolutely Excellent

    'Billy' was an excellent book. I enjoyed it so much. by looking at it's cover I would've never picked it up except that I had to write a brief thesis on it. The book was excellent. After I read one page I couldn't wait to get to the next. Every word is so compelling that the book actually pulls you into it. It's heartbreaking and the ending is beyond expectations. Overall, it's one of the best books I've ever read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2000

    An extraordinary novel

    You can taste the south in this extraordinarily moving first novel from Albert French. An astonishing debut, this first book is French's best. It will affect your life in a way that few books do. You will never forget Billy, which in some way is a very good reason to keep well clear of this book! It is so affecting, and so compelling, and you will cry at the end, like everyone else who reads it. And yes, it is a very good read. Don't miss it!

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