Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd, Random House Inc, 2008, 322 pp
This is the sort of YA literature I like these days: somewhat historical with a regular protagonist who must make sense of the world around him. In Ireland, during "the troubles", some members of the IRA and the Irish National Liberation army went on a hunger strike while imprisoned. Fergus is the younger brother of one these soldiers.
It is 1981 and Fergus is a high school senior trying to study for and pass his college entrance exams. All around him are the people affected by his brother's ordeal, including his parents who have conflicting views. Meanwhile, during a clandestine peat cutting mission with his uncle, Fergus finds the body of a dead child, strangely preserved in the peat bog.
Not long after that, he is approached by Michael, a freedom fighter and asked to carry packages over the border during his habitual morning run through the hills. That is a lot to deal with for a 16 year old and of course, during it all, he falls in love for the first time.
Siobhan Dowd's writing is almost perfect and her book is an example of literature that straddles the boundary between YA and adult. (Note to parents: not in content or language but in issues.) It probably helps if the reader knows something about those times in Ireland, but the story could also spur an uninformed reader to do a little research.
As I read, I recalled my visit to Ireland a few years ago. I could see the peat bog, the misty hills; I could smell the rashers and the sheep. The Cranberries' song "Zombie" played in my head and I thought about how there are always decisions to make for any human being trying to understand the conflicts in the world, knowing how and when to take a stand, searching for love and attaining some measure of control over one's destiny.
Recommended for readers age 14 and up.
(Bog Child is available in hardcover by special order at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback will be released in the spring, 2010.)