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Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles Book Poster Image
Magical mayhem, booze among wee folk in zany Irish tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The presentation may be a bit unconventional, but, besides the loony doings of the wee folk, there's a lot here about Irish culture, from the occasional Gaelic word like "garda" and "captaen" to local sights, cultural attractions, and history -- such as Ronan's boss being a distant relative of onetime Irish president Eamon de Valera. Also vocabulary enrichment, like learning that "porte cochere" is a fancy way to say "covered driveway" in Ireland.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about teamwork, hard work, loyalty, and an ability to deal with the unexpected and/or completely nuts -- all useful things here.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite being completely out of his depth, Ronan is determined to save his parents (fuzzy-headed scholars who clearly should never have been out without a keeper in the first place) from unjust imprisonment. His awestruck devotion to Captain de Valera leads to many feats of bravery. The captain, along with wolfhound Lily, is courageous, determined, quick to bash foes with her shillelagh, and determined to stay ahead of the wee folk and their evil doings.

Violence

One scene involves knocking off a monster's head, which is then buried by a wolfhound. Some of the more sinister magical beings eat humans and otherwise do deadly, gruesome things. Punching, kicking, and bashing with shillelaghs -- sometimes to the point of breaking bones or other body parts -- are all part of the slapstick. As is a character who drowns early in the tale and keeps popping up as an annoying ghost. Ronan's imprisoned (and clueless) parents join opposing gangs in prison, and a battle looms.

Sex

After a harrowing adventure, Ronan falls asleep in the arms of his much larger, older, female classmate Log. He says he's never been in love, even with his fetching "guardian," and tries to avoid falling in love with spell-casting faeries. The captain, under such a spell, manages to stop kissing the spell-casting Lovely Liam long enough to arrest him, throw him in with an abducted flock of sheep, and tell him "don't trifle with the sheep, my love."

Language

Butts, pee, poop, farts, and assorted noxious body odors/fluids are constant and often influence plot developments. A favorite pastime of leprechauns involves eating hot pickles that cause them to fart with such force that they're propelled to the ceiling and knock themselves out. Characters frequently insult each other, with "eejit" (idiot) being a particular favorite. "Kiss your arses goodbye" is part of a shape-shifter's curse.

Consumerism

Real-life products get frequent mentions, from various brands of Irish whiskey used to manage leprechauns to the iPhones the wee folk are fond of stealing even though they don't work in Tir Na Nog.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol, and excessive consumption of it, are a well-worn, often stereotypical element of Irish culture -- and in this case, booze is such a normal part of life that teen characters drink it regularly (one learned from the leprechauns, who are usually drunk or trying to get that way). Leprechauns in particular smoke clay pipes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles, first book in a new series by veteran screenwriter and first-time novelist Thomas Lennon, is a zany foray into Irish mythology and present-day culture -- with booze, smells, disgusting bodily fluids, and magical mayhem on practically every page. It's not your grandmother's Tir Na Nog (land of the faeries) here, as the geeky but determined 15-year-old hero takes on drunken or otherwise substance-addled leprechauns and other rotten-to-the-core magical beings. Kids at the bathroom-humor-and-grossout stage will find plenty to keep them entertained -- and that's just one element of the constant barrage of craziness, slapstick, spookiness, and chaos leading to the cliff-hanger ending. Violence incudes sinister magical beings eating humans and otherwise doing deadly, gruesome things. Punching, kicking, and bashing with shillelaghs -- sometimes to the point of breaking bones or other body parts -- are all part of the slapstick. A character who drowns early in the tale keeps popping up as an annoying ghost. 

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What's the story?

As RONAN BOYLE AND THE BRIDGE OF RIDDLES opens, it's the 15th birthday of the title character, who's been under the wing of and working for the local garda (Irish for police) ever since his scholarly but fuzzy-headed parents were framed by the wee folk and sent to prison. Now, due to being the smallest and skinniest member of the force, he's sent to the Secret Garda, whose thankless mission it is to keep the wee folk in line, and who immediately need someone really skinny to slither down a pipe and rescue a stolen baby from the leprechauns. With the dauntless, formidable Captain Siobhan de Valera and brave garda wolfhound Lily, he's soon off to Tir Na Nog, the magical kingdom that's home to leprechauns, churichauns, gancanaghs, trolls, and a whole lot of other characters whose lives seem to revolve around whiskey, spells, theft, and troublemaking.

Is it any good?

Shillelaghs fly, whiskey flows, and foul odors fill the air as first-time novelist and Weird Al screenwriter Thomas Lennon pits his geeky teen hero against the leprechauns. Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles launches a new series set in the magical land of Tir Na Nog -- but not the sweet, sentimental version you might have heard about before.

"Like all Irish children, I had heard of the wee folk -- leprechauns, far darrigs, harpies, and such -- and that they love mischief and they come from Tir Na Nog, which is the land of the faerie folk. But like most sensible children, I always imagined that this was a bunch of made-up blarney -- stories invented and embellished in pubs by glassy-eyed old-timers who were pissed as farts on rum and punch.

"But let me assure you, ... Tir Na Nog is a real place.

"And the wee folk are not a friendly pack of elves who will fill your shoes with candy while you sleep. They are small, hard-working swindlers who would steal your nose and replace it with a turnip if they thought they could make one single euro from doing it."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Irish mythology and magical legends in Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles. What other stories do you know based on Irish myths? What do you think has kept these stories alive for centuries -- and how do you think this novel fits in?

  • Have you ever been to Ireland, or watched any movies or TV shows set there? What did you see, and what did you think of it? What's fun about a story set in another country?

  • One thing that comes up here is that people in the U.S. and Ireland often use different words for the same thing, like the Irish say "lift" when Americans would say "elevator," or "torch" instead of "flashlight." What other examples can you think of where the same thing has different -- English -- names in different countries?

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