Monday, February 02, 2009

Clean, Captivating Billy Creekmore Will Have You Cheering For Its Unlikely Hero

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Billy Creekmore doesn't like to talk about his special gift. After all, it killed his mother and drove his father off to parts unknown. It's pretty much directly responsible for his current predicament - Billy's 10 years old, living at the Guardian Angels Home for Boys, and destined to live out the rest of his life as a penniless factory worker. It's a fact - communing with the spirits of the dead brings nothing but trouble. It can't even bring him closer to his mother, "and wouldn't that be the ghost I'd see if I could?" (1)

Fortunately, talking to spirits isn't Billy's only talent. The title hero of Tracey Porter's Billy Creekmore can also fashion a captivating story out of midair. His imagination keeps things lively at Guardian Angels, where the boys labor under the cruel eye of Mr. Beadle. A good story especially comes in handy when Billy needs to get himself out of a scrape. And boy is he ever in a scrape! Although he hasn't yet reached the tender age of 12, Billy is being sent to work at the glass factory. Every boy at the orphanage dreams of this adventure, but not Billy - after seeing what factory work does to his friend Meek, he wants no part of it. His creative juices stewing, Billy hopes he can find a solution to his dilemma before it's too late.

Just in the nick of time, Billy's savior arrives in the form of his Uncle Jim. Kindly Jim takes Billy to the coal mining town of Holly Glen, West Virginia, where he's given a home and the first he's known of a family life. After questioning his aunt and uncle, Billy realizes they know little more than he does about his mysterious father, who sends infrequent postcards with no return address. Still, Billy's happy in Holly Glen. He'd rather be in the mines with the men than in school with the little kids, but Jim wants to keep him away from the mines for as long as possible. Eventually, Billy gets his wish, but mining brings its own problems. There's the little boy who haunts the mine for one, and union trouble for another. When tragedy strikes, Billy's uprooted once again.

Billy finally stumbles upon members of the Charles Sparks World Famous Circus, a ragtag family who agrees to take him in. Although he loves his job working the advance for Mr. Sparks, a chance encounter with a stranger convinces him to sign on with another circus. It doesn't take Billy long to realize this crumbling operation lacks the sparkle and success - not to mention, morals - of Mr. Sparks'. He longs for his old life, but he can't abandon the stranger, the only person who can help him reconnect with his father. Ultimately, Billy has to make a choice - return to the honest life with Mr. Sparks and give up his search for his father or continue duping audiences in exchange for time with the father he's never known. At the heart of his choice lie the big questions - Who is Billy Creekmore, really? Can the boy who crafts tales out of nothing at all find a happy ending to his own story?

With its engaging narrator and thrilling plot, Billy Creekmore makes for an exciting read. Two major coincidences bugged me, especially since they could have been easily explained. However, while those two happenings are unrealistic, the rest of the novel is achingly real - depictions of child exploitation in the factories and mines of the early 1900s are horrifying. Ultimately, though, this is a story of hope, survival and one plucky little boy named Billy Creekmore. A clean, captivating read, this one will have you cheering for its unlikely hero.

Grade: B

3 comments:

  1. Great review! I haven't heard of this one, but it sounds like it's worth checking out.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  2. This looks like a great book. I've never heard of it either but I'll keep my eyes open for it.

    ReplyDelete
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