A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that teens smoke, drink, get drunk, make out, and come close to having sex. The story takes place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and is based on real events at the Long Kesh prison. There are bombings and suicidal hunger strikes, and while he author's notes provides a little context, readers will need some help understanding the Troubles and the terminology of Provos and Unionists and Sinn Fein. Even so, this book may inspire teens to learn more about this painful time in history. See our recommended media for other Irish stories to consider.
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What's the story?
Fergus lives in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He's got a lot going on: He knows his exams are his only ticket out, but he's also dealing with his brother, an imprisoned IRA fighter, who is on a hunger strike, and he's being pressured into secretly carrying mysterious packages back and forth across the border. Fergus and his uncle discover a body buried in a bog, which turns out to be nearly 2000 years old. Archeologists arrive to argue over the find and which country owns it, and Fergus finds himself falling for one of their daughters. He also starts having strange dreams about the life of the girl whose body they found. Includes an author's note that gives a brief look at the book's context.
Is it any good?
This is a lovely book about an unlovely time and place -- a grim Northern Irish town in the early '80s. Fergus and his family are appealing characters living through exceptionally difficult events, and the parallel story of the long-ago life of Mel, the bog child, seen through Fergus' troubled dreams, adds resonance and depth to the story. Especially touching are Fergus' forbidden friendship with a young British border guard, and his family's division and desperation over his brother Joe's hunger strike: "Oh, Joe. The consequences. On you, on us, on all of us. Did you think of them? Did you?"
Basing the story on real events at the Long Kesh prison, the late author, British herself, assumes that her readers know all about the Troubles, and understand the terminology of Provos and Unionists and Sinn Fein. She helps them out with only the briefest of Author's Notes, and no glossary. American teens will need some help with context, either by explaining it to them or pointing them toward researching it for themselves. Without that context the story is still readable, but makes a whole lot less sense.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical fiction. Why is it important to read about events that happened in the past? Does reading a fictional story like this make a different impression on you than reading facts in a history book? How so?
What do you know about the history of this time? Does the author's note explain enough -- or do you need a greater context? Families interested in learning more about the Troubles might want to consider visiting the BBC's Web site.
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