Reviews for Life! Death! Prizes!

Booklist Reviews 2012 November #1
Billy and Oscar's single-parent mother is dead, killed in a senseless mugging, and 19-year-old Billy is determined to keep custody of his 6-year-old half-brother. This means a set-to with their aunt and Oscar's importunate father, who has suddenly appeared after five years of neglect. In the meantime, Billy has begun seeing his mother's murderer, who appears at capriciously odd times but somehow disappears before Billy can respond. Altogether, the two boys' lives have become the stuff of Life! Death! Prizes!; that is, the kind of material featured in sensational magazines, the ones Billy reads so, as he notes, "I can tell myself I'm lucky." But is he? In his second novel, British writer May does a good job of integrating the various plot strands and keeping readers in suspense over the outcome of Billy's struggle for custody. This is another novel that, with its intrinsic appeal to older teens, could have been published as YA. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 October #1
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! Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 July #1

After his vivacious mother is killed in a bungled robbery attempt, Billy Smith, an aspiring social historian on a gap year before going to college, finds himself thrust into the role of primary caregiver to his precocious but odd little brother, Oscar. Tortured by memories and obsessed with the disappearance of the street boy who likely murdered his mother, Billy makes an anguished decision to avoid complying with a family court's decree to separate him and Oscar. In a conclusion that ironically reads like the tabloid story from which this novel borrows its title, Billy and Oscar miraculously get a chance to live happily ever after. VERDICT May's astonishing 2008 debut novel, TAG, distinguished him as a gifted portrayer of modern British life. In this follow-up, May's skills are just as dazzling. Billy's wry narrative juxtaposes commentary on contemporary Britain's consumerist decline in a village south of London with his own timeless aspirations and universal adolescent vanities. Readers who appreciate the fiction of Joe Dunthorne and Ross Raisin will also prize this novel.--J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #3

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. Agent: David Smith, Annette Green Agency. (Dec.)

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