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  • The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself by David Almond
  • Karen Coats
Almond, David. The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself. Candlewick, 2014. [272p]. Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-7636-6309-4 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-7636-6725-2 $17.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 9-12.

Billy Dean is born on the day suicide bombers decimate his home city of Blinkbonny. Miraculously, he and his mother are unharmed, but his father, for reasons of his own, decides that Billy must be reared in secret. Thus Billy grows up in a single locked room, attended to by his loving but simple mother; his unbalanced father, who visits only occasionally, brings with him stories, lessons, and the belief that his miracle child will have preternatural insight given the circumstances of his birth and his isolated upbringing. When his father leaves town, his mother brings thirteen-year-old Billy out into the world with the help of the local butcher and the woman who had served as midwife at his birth; while the butcher offers fatherly affection, Missus Malone seeks to exploit Billy, believing, like his father, that he has special gifts for communicating with the dead and healing the sick. Sure enough, Billy does appear to have some powers, but the mantle of responsibility they incur does not rest easily with him, and his father’s mental instability has not yet finished inflicting its damage. Billy’s story is told entirely through invented phonetic spelling, which, while always comprehensible, slows the reading down and enhances the sense of Billy’s vulnerability in a confusing and devastated world. His ability to find surreal beauty in strange things, such as the dead mice he lovingly dissects in his room, hearkens back to Almond’s treatment of Skellig (Skellig, BCCB 3/99) and Heaven Eyes (Heaven Eyes, BCCB 4/01), and the message is also similar: wonder and loveliness can be recovered from the ashes of festering evil. Billy’s innocence doesn’t save him from that evil, but his steadfast ability to find goodness, beauty, love, and mystery in the darkest places lights the way forward, for himself and readers alike.



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