From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—It is 1981, and 18-year-old Fergus lives on the border between Northern Ireland and the south. His older brother, Joe, a member of the Provisional IRA, is jailed at Long Kesh and joins a hunger strike. The family is traumatized, and Fergus does his best to comfort his mother and to convince Joe that his "sacrifice" for the cause is not worth it. Fergus has been pressured (blackmailed) to smuggle packages for the IRA, but wants nothing more than to leave Ireland and study to become a doctor. His life becomes even more complicated when he and his uncle discover the body of a young girl while pilfering peat. It turns out to be 2000 years old. Thus begins a double narrative that involves a love story and a discussion of destiny and self-sacrifice. Fergus's story includes his struggle to understand his brother's actions and his growing love for the daughter of the archaeologist called in to investigate the Iron Age discovery. Interspersed is the story of Mel, the bog child, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to unite her people, and who finds love at the end of her life. The two narratives work beautifully together. The love story between Fergus and Cora is depicted with tenderness, and their adolescent sexuality is sensitively portrayed. Readers will come away with a strong sense of the time periods (especially of the "Troubles") through dialogue and action. This compelling read is lyrically written and contains authentic dialogue and challenging and involving moral issues. It's a first, and a must-have purchase.—Jennifer Ralston, Harford County Public Library, Belcamp, MD
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*Starred Review* While cutting peat in the Irish hills, Fergus McCann and his uncle discover a body preserved by the bog. Archaeologists and politicians fight over the find, while Fergus starts to dream about the past of the bog child he names “Mel.” Dowd slowly reveals the story of Mel’s mysterious death, an apparent murder, amid the 1980s troubles of Northern Ireland and the hunger strike of the Long Kesh political prisoners. Fergus’ imprisoned older brother joins the strike as Fergus is blackmailed into delivering packages that may contain bomb-making supplies. The history, which will likely be as unfamiliar to American teen readers as the story’s dialect, may need fleshing out with additional sources, but the intriguing characters and their motivations and sacrifices will translate directly to contemporary readers. The plotlines are braided together into a strong story that is rich in language, setting, and theme. Fans of David Almond’s work will savor the similar religious influences and the elements of magical realism. A budding romance with the archaeologist’s daughter, exuberant Cora, will delight readers, who will wonder, as Fergus does after his first kisses, “Why wasn’t the whole world doing this all the time, why?” Grades 8-11. --Cindy Dobrez