I was surprised when my friend Holly and self-confessed ‘chick-lit hater’ picked Giovanna Fletcher’s debut novel for book group. I was also a little bit disappointed as I thought this book would be predictable and lack depth. I think Holly herself was surprised too by her choice. However she readily admits that she is a big fan of blogger Giovanna and her husband Tom Fletcher (member of the band McFly), so was pretty curious to find out what Giovanna is like as a writer.
Billy and Me is a very easy read and one that you can progress through quickly. It follows the story of shy and homely Sophie May whose quiet life is turned upside down when she meets and falls in love with teen heart-throb Billy Buskin. This is a typical ‘boy meets girl’ story, but throughout the novel, Fletcher gives the reader snapshots of Sophie’s past:
I can still remember my first panic attack. I was eleven years old.
I guess you could say I was in a fragile state – my world had fallen apart overnight, huge changes were happening at home and I was experiencing feelings I’d never felt before. Despite this, I was made to go back to school straight away. I think my mum thought it would help, perhaps make me forget the troubles at home. Or maybe she wanted me out of the way so that she could deal with her own thoughts. Her own heartache. Whatever her reasons for making me go back, I couldn’t help but feel sent away. Banished because she couldn’t bear to look at me.
Although we get insights into Sophie’s troubled past, the clichéd romance dominates the plot. Both Sophie and Billy are likeable characters; in my view probably a bit too ‘nice’ which does make them a tad boring and predictable. As Holly said when we came to discuss Billy and Me at book group, they are two-dimensional characters which in a sense, I had to agree with.
To be fair, I don’t think our book group is the target age market for this book – I think it is more aimed at late teens/early 20s. As fellow book groupie Kim admitted: “I’d have loved this book 10 years ago.” Kim happily left her copy of Billy and Me on a train for someone else to try.
However I felt that the characterisation of Sophie developed depth as the novel’s subplots evolved. In my view it was the subplots, written with such poignancy that really makes this novel. I can’t tell you about the subplots as then I would be ruining it for you. However I actually found myself crying my eyes out when reading the subplots; not just shedding a tear or two, but really crying my heart out. Giovanna’s writing style, very simple and innocent, altered my view of Sophie. Rather than being frustrated by her, I felt a great empathy towards her.
As I mentioned above, I’m sure our book group is not the target age for Billy and Me but, I did find myself really missing both Sophie and Billy after finishing the book. I may even read the sequel…