LIFE! DEATH! PRIZES! by Stephen May


Email this review


Left in charge of his young brother after their mother is killed, 19-year-old Billy Smith does a spectacularly bad job of coping.

Profane, angry, flippant, comical and sexually frustrated, Billy gives voice to British writer May’s second novel (Tag, 2008) with enough sarcasm to strip paint. His ranting banter conceals the grief of losing his mother during a bag snatch that went wrong but also expresses his caustic view of his small-town community and “trauma porn”—Billy’s name for the Life/Death/Prizes magazines he reads, featuring freakish domestic disasters similar to his own. Billy isn’t a wholly reliable narrator—he fantasizes a dysfunctional background for the boy who killed his mother while failing to acknowledge the mess he is making of caring for his 6-year-old brother. Surviving on fast food, neglecting to pay the bills, watching porn and getting into fights, Billy is on the edge of a breakdown and flirting with disaster once social services get involved. Although reminiscent of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the book tends more toward Nick Hornby’s laddishness, reaching its climax with a custody application resisted by Billy but which turns out well enough in the end.

A graphically up-to-date coming-of-age tale, with some very strong language and plenty of British slang. Provocative! Bittersweet! Promising!

Pub Date: Dec. 11th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62040-001-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2012


FictionMAY CONTAIN NUTS by John O’Farrell
by John O’Farrell
FictionABOUT A BOY by Nick Hornby
by Nick Hornby