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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.
A profoundly visceral work of fiction
- September 1, 1998
I felt every breath of emotion that Albert French's characters experienced. Mr. French has crafted an incredibly powerful story with a precision of language and structure. Every scene builds on the one before it. Characters and their situations evolve into a heart wrenching crescendo of emotional devastation. The screams of Billy's mother still resonate -- echo in my mind and spirit... three years after initially reading this story. Also, Mr. French brings the ignorance and prejudice of the time period alive. He masterfully bludgeons us with the brutality of it through desciption and dialogue. The reader must grapple with his/her own perspective of racism and its history. There is no easy way out. I highly recommend reading this book aloud. Many of my high school students from years past, still talk about this one book, read aloud to them in class. Like Toni Morrison's Beloved, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Ernest Gaines The... read more
One of the most heartwrenching books I've ever read
By T. L. Cooper "T. L. Cooper"
- September 3, 2004
1937. Mississippi. Two teenage girls. Two young boys, ages ten and twelve. A fight ensues and one of the girls ends up dead. The community is outraged and more interested in revenge than justice. Why? The girls are white and the boys are black. Should that matter? Regardless, it does. French unapologetically drops the reader right into the times with all its prejudices glaring. It's impossible to avoid an emotional reaction to Billy. The grief of the families' losses, Billy's confusion about what's happening to him as well as what happened during the fight, and the blatant racism all serve to make the reader question whether things have really changed since 1937 or whether all that racism really just boiling under the surface searching for any excuse to break free.
By Aaron McKinin
- December 2, 1999
I was enthralled by this book after I met the author at a writing class. I immediately bought the book and it has been a wonderful read all nine times I have read it. French uses down to earth language to tell a wonderful although disturbing story. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading well written, beautifully worded literature. A must read for aspiring writers!
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