What I Did has a 6 year old narrator, Billy Wright. A precocious child, Billy has quite a rebellious streak. His father works in “communications” from home, and his mother Tessa works the night shift. He also has a Grandma Lynne, Tessa’s mom, but his only connection seems to be with his dad. The other amily characters are Cecily, Tessa’s sister and Billy’s aunt, and her baby daughter.
One day Billy gets up exceptionally early and he and his dad go for a walk in the park. Billy decides to run until he reaches a busy street, ignoring his dad who is screaming frantically for him to stop. Billy struggles over a brick wall getting to the street and cuts himself on his leg. When his dad reaches him, almost as Billy is running into traffic, his dad pulls down Billy’s pants and spanks him – hard. A woman passerby jogging by stops Dad and starts to ream him out. Dad tells her off. The woman follows Dad home and reports him to Child Services. Child Services comes to the house, they don’t like what they see, and arrange a home visit. When they talk to Billy, he seems abused (he’s not). So they arrange a doctor’s visit to examine Billy’s bruises (Billy likes to bump from stair to stair, hard and has lots of bruises). Billy tells the doctor he has been told not to say anything to the doctor, but Billy does allude to the cut as being made by a brick, and leads the doctor to think his dad hit him with a brick. The situation gets worse because Dad, like Billy, has quite the rebellious streak and refuses to allow Child Services into his home repeatedly, and Dad Jim will not attend the final meeting to decide what will be done to “do what is best for Billy.” Because of Dad’s behavior and Billy’s literal and confusing explanations, Dad eventually gets kicked out of the house and ends up with Grandma. Dad does have a lot of frustration as it seems he is Billy’s caretaker. We don’t get a clear picture of Mom from Billy and he doesn’t talk or think about her very much.
REVIEW (my opinion only):
I had quite a few problems with this plot. First, Billy is annoying. Second, I didn’t believe the narration or the plot. Billy is an expert in flora and fauna and animal life from watching DVDs. He is totally literal in thought, although he quite understands that his words and anger at Dad will remove his father from the family. The family is not intimate, with Mom and Dad occasionally patting him on the head and ruffling his hair. Other than a hug or two, there is no other touch mentioned. Billy has no friends, he doesn’t connect with Aunt Cicely or Baby Daughter, he doesn’t go outside to play, and he is not close or even really attuned in any way to his mother or grandmother. Dad, who occasionally has a pint, is the only person in his life. He seems to be aware that Dad really likes it when he gets to rage at Billy, or at least that is what Billy says. Billy says a lot of stuff that unless he has Aspergers or is an autistic savant he would not really think about as a 6 year old. Also, the family is more than dysfunctional if no one but Dad talks or relates to Billy. And likewise with Billy. The portrait that Wakling gives fictionally struck me as unreliable, and I did not really believe the character of Billy, nor Billy as the narrator. The situation had no tension. Everything that happens after Billy runs away is negative, and the fact that Grandmother Lynne takes Dad in at the end seems implausible and silly. Also Billy never changes his position, nor do any of the other characters. While the plot is a good one, it seemed like a journalistic procession of events that one would read in the paper. The writing seemed more for the author’s cleverness than for the book. The constant intentional misreading of words by Billy is good, once, twice, three times, but as a constant in the writing process of Billy’s narration, it gets old, fast.
To me, the novel dragged while we listened to Billy’s treatises and the scene where he watches Avatar with dad at the movies almost had me laughing out loud as Billy had no emotional response. Everything Billy described was like a comic book. There were times when Billy became a 6 year old; when he got candy or ice cream because he knew he had his dad and mom worried about losing him and knew his manipulations were working, but even then it seemed a bit extreme. This has to be the most manipulative 6 year old I have ever seen.
I think Wakling’s initial posing of Billy Wright as narrator is brilliant; however, when I read a novel, I don’t want linear, I want tension, that element that surprises me, when the characters become the plot, not the other way around. That said, I believe that Wakling has great talent, and imagination. I just did not connect in any way with this book.
I know many reviewers loved this novel, and I suggest that Readers give it a try, and perhaps comment on how they felt about it. For me, it just didn’t click.
What I Did arrived in bookstores this week.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.