In 1981, Northern Ireland was reeling from The Troubles and the activities of the IRA. All Fergus McCann wants, as he finishes up high school, is to get a scholarship to university in Scotland. What are The Troubles to him? He wants out and wants to be a doctor.
But there is no escaping what Ireland is.
One early morning, Fergus joins his uncle Tilly in a cross-border expedition to cut peat. But before their work is done, Fergus discovers the body of a young girl who looks as if she had been murdered.
Fergus is further drawn in to The Troubles: First by his older brother, Joe, who has been arrested for his IRA activities and who has decided to join the hunger strike. And second by a local hoodlum who has blackmailed Fergus into smuggling small packages over the Irish border.
After Fergus befriends an archaeologist and her daughter, Cora, he learns that the bog child is actually a young woman who lived almost 2000 years ago. Fergus begins to dream of the murder victim, and through her story, he starts to understand his own.
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd is a complex and moving story that easily travels between 80 C.E. and 1981, showing that humans have not come very far along the road to peace and understanding. Young love, facing the truth about one's family, standing up for one's personal beliefs, and doing the right thing are explored from a number of view points.
Fergus's parents and his uncle Tilly offer one perspective, Cora and her PhD mother offer another, and Joe and the bog child and the British guards offer others. And through the reality that is his own Ireland, Fergus must find a path, as he quickly approaches adulthood and is forced out of the complacency of youth.
Although this award-winning novel is generally considered to be geared to young adults, it will appeal to a wider audience. The book would make a great starting point for parent-child discussions about tolerance and how the love of one's family and country can have the power to change the course of an individual's life (for good or for bad). Bog Child would also make a good adult book club choice; the multiple story lines are fodder for debate.
The unabridged audio edition (Listening Library) was read by Sile Bermingham, a new to me narrator. Bermingham did a believable job telling the story from sixteen-year-old Fergus's point of view, and her native Irish accent is easy to understand. She changes her voice just enough to make it clear who is talking and avoids being overly dramatic. The reading draws you in, and it is difficult to turn off the mp3 player.
Oxford University Press offers a reading guide for Bog Child, which might be particularly helpful for those of you who home school. Bog Child is the recipient of at least five awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal.
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Published by Random House / David Ficking Books, 2009
Challenges: Audiobook, Support Your Library, 2010, Ireland Reading, 100+
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
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