In Nancy Crocker's novel, Billie Standish Was Here, William Marie Standish, better known as Billie, is the only daughter of struggling farmers in rural Cumberland. It is the summer of 1968 and at age eleven, though not physically abused, Billie has suffered from continuous emotional neglect and learned being invisible has its benefits. Left mostly to her own devices, she chances to meet elderly neighbor Lydia Jenkins one afternoon while picking up the mail. An unlikely friendship forms during a town emergency and strengthens, as friendships do, with shared experience after Miss Lydia’s son brutally attacks Billie. Lydia becomes Billie’s protector, confidant, and family as they struggle to cope with the initial aftermath and consequences of rape including disease and pregnancy.
Years pass as Billie and Lydia’s relationship progresses to a time in life when the child becomes caregiver to her elder. The ending is heavily foreshadowed, but the impact of Billie’s strength during final moments of love between friends is not lessened. This novel examines important social issues of the 1960’s including Vietnam, women’s rights, and education, and charges the characters to search personal beliefs learning that more often than not, right and wrong are shaded with gray.
Crocker’s portrayal of Billie’s parents and their disinterest in her as anything but an afterthought was wonderfully done; the reader could feel sympathy for all. The rape scene and Lydia’s response were vividly realistic and definitely within the scope of reason, though they may be difficult for younger readers to digest. I was a bit disappointed in the quick passage of time at the books end, but understood the need for a mature conclusion. This first novel is a strong entry into the field of young adult literature. Crocker's has a previously published children's book Betty Lou Blue.
Tags: Billie Standish was Here, Nancy Crocker, Juvenile fiction, YA fiction, Historical fiction