Written by Siobhan Dowd
David Fickling, 2008, 336 pp.
The year is 1984, the place is Ireland, and Fergus McCann, the 18 year-old protagonist of Bog Child, has a lot on his mind. The stress brought on by the Troubles, the three-decades long period of strife in Northern Ireland between the Roman Catholic and Protestant factions, has his parents in a constant state of bickering. Fergus is studying for his A-level exams so he can become a doctor. His brother, a member of the Irish Republican Army, is in prison in Long Kesh. A friend of his brother is blackmailing Fergus to run contraband for the IRA across the border. And to top it all off, when he and his uncle are pilfering peat in a bog they find the body of a young girl, apparently murdered.
The girl, whom Fergus calls Mel, turns out to be 2,000 years old. Fergus becomes acquainted with Felicity O’Brien, the archeologist who is brought in to excavate the site, and her teenage daughter Cora. As Mel’s story unfolds, Fergus finds himself dreaming about her and falling in love with Cora. Meanwhile, when Joe, Fergus’ imprisoned brother, joins the group of hunger strikers to protest the British government’s refusal to treat them as political prisoners, it falls to Fergus to comfort his mother while trying to convince his brother to end his strike.
Siobhan Dowd’s wonderful prose moves this story along quickly, and she brings together all of these events to a satisfying conclusion, one that isn’t contrived or forced. The weaving in of Mel’s story is particularly effective; Mel was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, both of her life and her love for Rad, in order to unite her people, just as Fergus is willing to compromise his opportunity to go to medical school by running contraband because he believes it will help his brother in prison, and just as his brother Joe is willing to sacrifice himself in the name of protest. Ultimately, Fergus stays true to himself just as Mel did.
Siobhan Dowd tragically died at age 47 from cancer after publishing just two novels, both of which received widespread praise: A Swift Pure Cry (Random House, 2007), about a young girl in poverty who faces estrangement from her family and community when she becomes pregnant; and The London Eye Mystery (David Fickling,2008), a mystery set in modern-day London that is narrated by a boy with Asperger’s syndrome. Bog Child was published posthumously.
Bog Child introduces teens to the recent troubles in Northern Ireland as well as to Mel’s world from 2,000 years ago. While Dowd includes a brief discussion of the hunger strike in her Authors’ Note, it might be helpful to have students read about the Irish hunger strike as well as the Troubles to have a better understanding of Fergus’ experiences and his world. This book could be paired with The Braid (2006) by Helen Frost, set in Scotland and Americas in the 1850’s, about two sisters who are separated when their family is forced to flee the Scottish highlands. One ends up in America with her family, while the other stays with her grandmother in the Scottish Isles. Frost uses poems to bring alive the experiences of the two sisters while introducing students to another chapter in Great Britain’s history. It could also be used with Nory Ryan’s Song (2002) by Patricia Reilly Giff, the story of a young girl struggling to survive the Irish potato famine in the mid 1800’s. Finally, Dowd is such a wonderful writer that students would enjoy The London Eye Mystery, especially since the protagonist, a boy with Asperger’s, is such a hilarious, refreshing narrator.
Ann Parker, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
WOW Review, Volume II, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/ii-3/