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Shortlisted for the 2012 COSTA Novel Award
Billy's Mum is dead. He knows - because he reads about it in magazines - that people die every day in ways that are more random and tragic and stupid than hers, but for nineteen-year-old Billy and his little brother, Oscar, their mother's death in a bungled street robbery is the most random and tragic and stupid thing that could possibly have happened to them.
Now Billy must be both mother and father to Oscar, and despite what his well-meaning aunt, the PTA mothers, the social services and Oscar's own prodigal father all think, he knows he is more than up to the job, thank you very much.
The boys' new world, where bedtimes are arbitrary, tidiness is optional and healthy home-cooked meals pile up uneaten in the freezer, is built out of chaos and fierce love, but it's also a world that teeters perilously on its axis. And as Billy's obsession with his mother's missing killer grows, he risks losing sight of the one thing that really matters...
Funny, bittersweet and unforgettable, Life! Death! Prizes! is a story of grief, resilience and brotherly love.
In this British variation on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 18-year-old Billy Smith is forced to care for his six-year-old half-brother, Oscar, after their single mother is killed during a botched mugging. It's his university gap year, and while working part-time, Billy must meet Oscar's needs and still find time to drink, smoke weed, and play computer games. He must also fight to retain custody of Oscar, despite the objections of his well-meaning aunt, bureaucratic drones, and Oscar's absent father, who is suddenly back on the scene. Complicating matters is Billy's association with Lucy Avis, a teacher who is in an unhappy relationship with her artist boyfriend and who sends mixed sexual signals to a confused Billy. It's a situation right out of Life! Death! Prizes!, the tabloid magazine with which Billy is obsessed. Fortunately, he has a sense of humor, and Billy's arch and sometimes oversophisticated observations are probably the most enjoyable aspect of this book. Readers, like Billy, will come away from May's second novel (after Tag) with a new appreciation of what it means to grow up.