Life! Death! Prizes!

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Overview

Billy's mother is dead. He knows-because he reads about it in magazines-that people die every day in ways that are more random and tragic and stupid than hers, but for nineteen-year-old Billy and his little brother, Oscar, their mother's death in a bungled street robbery is the most random and tragic and stupid thing that could possibly have happened to them. Now Billy must be both mother and father to Oscar, and despite what his well-meaning aunt, the PTA mothers, social services, and Oscar's own prodigal father...

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Life! Death! Prizes!

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Overview

Billy's mother is dead. He knows-because he reads about it in magazines-that people die every day in ways that are more random and tragic and stupid than hers, but for nineteen-year-old Billy and his little brother, Oscar, their mother's death in a bungled street robbery is the most random and tragic and stupid thing that could possibly have happened to them. Now Billy must be both mother and father to Oscar, and despite what his well-meaning aunt, the PTA mothers, social services, and Oscar's own prodigal father all think, he feels certain that he is the one for the job.

The boys' new world-where bedtimes are arbitrary, tidiness is optional, and healthy home-cooked meals pile up uneaten in the freezer-is built out of chaos and fierce love, but it's also a world that teeters perilously on its axis. As Billy's obsession with his mother's missing killer grows, he risks losing sight of the one thing that really matters: the only family he has left.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this British variation on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 18-year-old Billy Smith is forced to care for his six-year-old half-brother, Oscar, after their single mother is killed during a botched mugging. It’s his university gap year, and while working part-time, Billy must meet Oscar’s needs and still find time to drink, smoke weed, and play computer games. He must also fight to retain custody of Oscar, despite the objections of his well-meaning aunt, bureaucratic drones, and Oscar’s absent father, who is suddenly back on the scene. Complicating matters is Billy’s association with Lucy Avis, a teacher who is in an unhappy relationship with her artist boyfriend and who sends mixed sexual signals to a confused Billy. It’s a situation right out of Life! Death! Prizes!, the tabloid magazine with which Billy is obsessed. Fortunately, he has a sense of humor, and Billy’s arch—and sometimes oversophisticated—observations are probably the most enjoyable aspect of this book. Readers, like Billy, will come away from May’s second novel (after Tag) with a new appreciation of what it means to grow up. Agent: David Smith, Annette Green Agency. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
“Already compared to Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, [Life! Death! Prizes!] deserves these plaudits and then some.”—South China Morning Post
Library Journal
After his vivacious mother is killed in a bungled robbery attempt, Billy Smith, an aspiring social historian on a gap year before going to college, finds himself thrust into the role of primary caregiver to his precocious but odd little brother, Oscar. Tortured by memories and obsessed with the disappearance of the street boy who likely murdered his mother, Billy makes an anguished decision to avoid complying with a family court's decree to separate him and Oscar. In a conclusion that ironically reads like the tabloid story from which this novel borrows its title, Billy and Oscar miraculously get a chance to live happily ever after. VERDICT May's astonishing 2008 debut novel, TAG, distinguished him as a gifted portrayer of modern British life. In this follow-up, May's skills are just as dazzling. Billy's wry narrative juxtaposes commentary on contemporary Britain's consumerist decline in a village south of London with his own timeless aspirations and universal adolescent vanities. Readers who appreciate the fiction of Joe Dunthorne and Ross Raisin will also prize this novel.—J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews
Left in charge of his young brother after their mother is killed, 19-year-old Billy Smith does a spectacularly bad job of coping. Profane, angry, flippant, comical and sexually frustrated, Billy gives voice to British writer May's second novel (Tag, 2008) with enough sarcasm to strip paint. His ranting banter conceals the grief of losing his mother during a bag snatch that went wrong but also expresses his caustic view of his small-town community and "trauma porn"--Billy's name for the Life/Death/Prizes magazines he reads, featuring freakish domestic disasters similar to his own. Billy isn't a wholly reliable narrator--he fantasizes a dysfunctional background for the boy who killed his mother while failing to acknowledge the mess he is making of caring for his 6-year-old brother. Surviving on fast food, neglecting to pay the bills, watching porn and getting into fights, Billy is on the edge of a breakdown and flirting with disaster once social services get involved. Although reminiscent of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the book tends more toward Nick Hornby's laddishness, reaching its climax with a custody application resisted by Billy but which turns out well enough in the end. A graphically up-to-date coming-of-age tale, with some very strong language and plenty of British slang. Provocative! Bittersweet! Promising!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781620400012
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/11/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 822,575
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen May's first novel, Tag, was published by a small Welsh press and won the Reader's Choice Award at the Welsh Book of the Year Awards in 2009, despite Stephen's not being Welsh. Stephen lives in Yorkshire, where he works for the Arts Council.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2014

    I liked this book

    I wasnt sure what to expect, but i thought this book was pretty good. It was a quick read. Some funny parts some sad. This book takes place in England and some of the slang and stuff i wasnt sure exactly what it was, but overall i really liked this book.

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