Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Billy Creekmore: A Novel

Billy Creekmore: A Novel

Tracey Porter
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2007   ISBN: 978-0060775704

Ten year old Billy Creekmore lives in the Guardian Angels Home for Boys in West Virginia. His mother died not long after he was born and his father disappeared soon after. To say that Billy's life is harsh is an understatement. He and the other boys in the home are worked hard, under fed, ill clothed, beaten, and barely educated. To get by Billy tells the most extraordinary "stories," and he lets the other boys believe that he is able to communicate with, and see, the spirits of the dead. As he struggles to survive, Billy dreams of getting away from the home in a few years, when he is old enough to get a job in the glass factory. Then Billy finds out that the boys who are sent to the glass factory are even more ill used than those living in the home. There is only one thing to do; Billy has to run away.

Before Billy can make his break for freedom something incredible happens. An uncle that he did not even know he had comes to claim him, and he is taken away from the home to live in Holly Glen, a small mining town, with his uncle and his aunt Agnes. Though his relatives are not well off, they take good care of Billy and he is happy in his new life.

Billy is eager to go and work in the mine alongside his uncle, but his uncle and aunt don't want Billy risking his life underground quite yet. Instead they insist that he goes to school, and they teach him how to drive a mule and cart. In a few years they hope that he will be able to get a job as a mule skinner in the mine, a job that is not as backbreaking and as dangerous. In Billy's opinion school does not suit him so he is thrilled when his uncle and aunt give in, finally allowing him to work in the mine.

Though the work in the mine is hard, Billy is content enough with his lot. He does not felt the urge to tell lies the way he used to when he lived in the orphanage, and he stays away from discussions about people being able to sense spirits. That is a part of his life that he wants to leave behind him. However, in spite of all his efforts, Billy's 'history' with communicating with the dead will not be set aside quite yet.

In this powerful and sometimes disturbing book Tracey Porter has created a portrait of a child who is, for much of his life, unwanted and unloved. She shows her readers what it was like to be a poor child in the early 1900's, a child who had to work to survive, and who was made use of by the one person who was supposed to help and protect him. Based, in part, on the stories of her own family, and carefully researched, this is a book that beautifully combines history and fiction.