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Bog Child Paperback – June 8, 2010
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Eighteen-year-old Fergus McCann is having a rough go of it. His older brother Joe, the "soldier" of the family, is incarcerated as a political prisoner because of his involvement with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. His parents are sick with worry, especially when Joe, inspired by the martyrdom of other high-profile prisoners, begins a hunger strike protest in jail. His younger sisters don't understand why everyone is so worried, or why Joe just can't get better and come home. As for Fergus, he has the dual worries of preparing for his driver's exam and his A levels. If he does well enough on his college prep exams, he'll be able to get into a pre-med program in Scotland --- and escape the violent Troubles in Northern Ireland once and for all.
The year is 1981, and IRA activity is at a peak. Fergus and his family live right on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, so close that he can cross the border into Ireland when he goes for a long run or (as they do at the novel's opening) when he and his uncle go to poach peat to sell for use as heating fuel.
That's when Fergus makes a discovery that will change everything. Peat moss has an uncanny ability to preserve whatever falls into it. So when Fergus finds a young girl's body, he is at first convinced that it's another IRA murder victim dumped in the bog. But when an Irish archaeologist (accompanied by her fetching daughter) confirms that the body instead belongs to a girl from the year AD 80, Fergus's dreams grow haunted by the girl, nicknamed Mel, whose story is so different from --- and yet startlingly similar to --- his own.
Many young American readers will find not only Mel's story but also Fergus's an eye-opening account of history. Dowd does a commendable job of explaining the Troubles to her audience without ever dumbing down the narrative for them. In fact, the writing throughout is lyrical and complex enough to satisfy any reader, whatever their age.
Fergus is a thoughtful, intelligent boy who takes issues of right and wrong seriously. His primary moral crisis --- which culminates in two surprising twists (one humorous, one tragic) --- is not an easy one; nor is the difficult decision that faces the McCann family near the end of the novel and threatens to tear them apart. BOG CHILD handles the big questions --- about personal responsibility, sacrifice, political action, love and borders --- with appropriate gravity, respect and thoughtfulness. And, as Fergus balances counting up the days of Joe's life-threatening hunger strike with his own eagerness to embrace his future, it also manages to sustain suspense from the very first page to the last.
BOG CHILD, which has been short-listed for the Guardian Prize, is the work of an author at the peak of her powers. I read, and loved, Dowd's LONDON EYE MYSTERY last year; with her current book, Dowd shows the true extent of her talent. I was saddened to hear that this promising author died last summer after a long battle with breast cancer. Literature for young people has lost such a gifted writer; those who have been fortunate enough to discover her work can be grateful that, in BOG CHILD and one additional novel to be published next year, her voice lives on.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
The good: I loved reading this book. I greatly enjoyed "A Swift Pure Cry" and was saddened to hear that Siobhan Dowd had died. This book was a perfect blend of history, politics, romance and imagination. Fergus was a believable and likable character and the descriptions of the country side really added to the story. For Irish history buffs, this book combines just enough of the old stuff and the current problems without becoming a tedious history lesson.
The bad: This wasn't a problem for me, but others might not understand the political setting of the story. For example, one not familiar with The Troubles, the PIRA or Bobby Sands/Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein would be confused for quite a portion of the book. Brush on Ireland's recent history before reading, I'd advise.
Overall, highly recommended. "Bog Child" blended several genres into a powerful and intriguing story. While the story of the actual bog child was interesting, I was struck by the moral dilemma Fergus' family faced at the end regarding the brother in The Maze. (I especially liked the parallels between Fergus and Mel, despite 2000 years). Thought provoking, interesting read.