Monday, 22 June 2009
I've been reading the late Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child in preparation for a Carnegie Medal shadowing event at Burntwood School in South London tomorrow. That's a great cover by the way, isn't it?
Bog Child is very good - very well written - though I do wonder at what the average fourteen year-old will make of it. It is one of the things I am looking forward to finding out tomorrow. The book is set on the border between the South and Ulster during the Troubles. I read a review on the US Amazon site that said US teenagers would not understand the background, but are British teenagers (outside of Northern Ireland of course) any more familiar with the Troubles or Bobby Sands?
It is 1981 and the brother of the main character, Fergus, is on hunger strike in the Maze. The story of Fergus and his struggles to come to terms with the political reality of Northern Ireland at that time and how it affects him and his his family is compelling, but I do wonder if the references will mean as much to the audience it is aimed at. It had a lot of resonance to me, because my generation (which included Dowd) grew up with the IRA and Northern Ireland as daily news items. I certainly know that my son would be mystified. But then that is the problem with all historical fiction for children - whether it is 1891 or 1981 - as I know all too well.
The politics of Ulster is not all that is happening in the novel of course - not by a long way. It starts with the discovery of a well-preserved Iron Age body in the peat - the bog child of the title. This turns out to be - well, I shouldn't really say too much more for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice it to say that Fergus appears to have a strange connection with this 'Mel'. He also falls in love with the daughter of the archaeologist called in to investigate and forms an unlikely (possible a bit too unlikely?) friendship with a British soldier.
I'll let you know what the students at Burntwood have to say about it in due course.