Saturday, October 11, 2008

Book Review: Bog Child

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. (Grades 9+)

When I was in high school, a friend's mom got us into a double feature at a local movie theater. One of the movies was Dazed and Confused. The other movie was Some Mother's Son. (I challenge you to find a stranger pairing for a double feature.) Years later, I remember almost nothing about Dazed and Confused, but Some Mother's Son has really stuck with me. So when I heard about Bog Child and that it was about the Northern Ireland conflict and the hunger strikes, I was instantly intrigued.

It's 1981 and Fergus McCann is 18 when he and his uncle find the body. It's the body of a girl, preserved for thousands of years in the bog, and it looks like she's been murdered. As Fergus ponders the fate of this girl and tries to study for his exams, other things are going on around him. Northern Ireland is smack in the middle of The Troubles, a violent conflict with Ireland, and his brother Joe is on a hunger strike in jail. Fergus develops feelings for Cora, the archaeologist's daughter. And Fergus is blackmailed into being a courier, carrying packets of an unknown substance back and forth across the border. Everything boils to a head as the McCann family struggles to convince Joe to give up the strike.

This book is not for everyone, but those who can stick with it through the unfamiliar Irish slang and dialog will find a touching, dramatic story of family and sacrifice. Siobhan Dowd's writing is poetic and she builds tension throughout the book. This is an unforgettable story set during a time rife with passion and turmoil. Fergus is a strong character who respects the opinions of his family members but refuses to get involved with violent protests. Yes, it took me a couple of chapters to get used to the words and patterns of speech, but it was well worth it.

When I picked up Bog Child, I knew very little about Northern Ireland and I have a feeling that many American readers might have that same problem. But the story was so gripping that it inspired me to research. I wanted to know what it was all about so I could better understand the story. (I am happy to say that I now have at least a feeble grasp on what it was all about and I'm still intending to learn more.)

Bog Child's gotten all manner of starred reviews, it was on the shortlist for the Guardian award for children's fiction, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a shiny Printz sticker on it come January. I was sad to learn that Siobhan Dowd passed away last year. She's written several other novels, the last of which is due for publication in February. I will certainly be checking those out.