Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

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Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A dollop of magic realism makes this sensitive look at one boy's summer on the north/south border during the Troubles an affecting and arresting read. It's intense, beautiful, and honest. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2008
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN: 978-0385614269

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Bog Child, finished just three months before Siobhan died from cancer, has taken the 2009 Carnegie medal for children's literature and made Dowd its first posthumous winner.

Up in the mountains, digging for contraband peat with his Uncle Tally, Fergus sees a glint that begs investigation. The glint is a Celtic bracelet, and the bracelet encircles the arm of a perfectly preserved body in the bog. Curled up peacefully as though asleep, it appears that Mel, as Fergus calls her, had a death that was anything but peaceful. There is a noose around her neck.

Mel isn't the only thing Fergus has to worry about. The year is 1981 and it's the height of the Troubles. Fergus is about to take his A Levels, his passport to medical school and a chance to leave the violence behind. His brother is on hunger strike at Long Kesh, the local Provo recruiter is pressuring him to get involved, his parents are at one another's throats, he's falling in love with Cora, the daughter of Mel's archaeologist.

All through that summer, Mel speaks to Fergus in his dreams, and their stories unfold together - two stories of distrust, hate, injustice and the threat of violence.

Oh, but this is a beautiful book. Fergus is an intelligent boy with a future. Even his family have made efforts to keep him clear of the Troubles. Brother Joey is a soldier, but everyone can see that Fergus is not. And they do try to shield him. But in this suffocating atmosphere, as the hunger strikers martyr themselves in such an horrific way, there really are no good choices to make. When a local Provo sympathiser asks Fergus to become a runner, delivering mysterious packages across the border, and promises to speak to the IRA hierarchy to get Joey off the hunger strike, what is Fergus supposed to do?

Worry about Joey, about his exams, about what will happen with Cora, fill a long, long summer for Fergus. He meets a British soldier, Owain, who comes from a mining town in the Welsh valleys, and he can see the ironic connection between them - both boys with choices proscribed by circumstances outside their control. Owain is only in the army because it was that or the mines.

How to find peace? What sacrifices are justified? Will we ever learn the lessons of the past? Dowd explores all these questions and more, in words of lyricism and beauty, balancing the harshness and the tough realities with a little magic realism. It's a perfect blend. And Bog Child made me cry.

Siobhan Dowd died of breast cancer in 2007. She left two books to be published posthumously, and Bog Child is one of them. Royalties will go to a trust to bring books to disadvantaged children. Her own books deserve to be top of the list.

My thanks to the good people at Random House for sending the book.

If they enjoyed Bog Child, they might also enjoy David Almond's Kit's Wilderness, which also blends the ancient past with a troubled present.

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Buy Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd at


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