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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bog Child, written by Siobhan Dowd. Random House, 2008. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"Mam and Dad, he thought. Why didn't you move down south when the Troubles started? Why?
He came back up over the top and the answer came with the view. Because of this. All this. It's home. He reached out a hand as if he could touch the round, brown shrubs that crawled up the far hillsides like giant hedgehogs."

Siobhan Dowd wrote with such clarity and purpose. She created strong and memorable characters whose  compelling stories pull you from page to page, always wondering at her ability to make them matter to the reader. I read The London Eye Mystery when it was first published. I did so because the reviews were strong and glowing...I am not a mystery reader. Meeting Ted, a young boy with Asperger's Syndrome, who sees the world in a very special way and uses his love of meteorology to find his lost cousin was remarkable. She gave him a voice that I have not forgotten. That book has led me to Solace, to Shell, to Conor and in this book, to Fergus.

It is 1981 and Fergus and his Uncle Tally have crossed the border from Northern Ireland. They are there to take peat from the cuts left open when the cutters stopped work the previous day. Peat is a valued commodity and will bring needed money and heat to both uncle and nephew. It is as they are digging in that peat bog that Fergus spots a dead body. How did it get there? Who is it?

As the story moves forward and authorities are called, the discovery is made that the body is 2000 years old, is not a child and has a story to tell, if only in Fergus' dreams. The discovery and resulting
scientific interest is only one direction that the plot takes.

Fergus is a runner. When he runs back to the place where the body was found, he meets Owain. He is a young Irish border guard who becomes a friend of sorts to Fergus. They meet whenever Fergus crosses the border on his morning runs. Owain does not know that Fergus has been forced to carry packages from one drop to another by his brother Joe's friend. Fergus is fearful that he is carrying bomb making materials for the IRA and carries a great deal of guilt as well. Wanting to be a doctor, he is not sure that their methods will get the desired resulst. Fergus is carrying those packages only because he thinks it might save his brother Joe, a prisoner on a hunger strike in Maze prison. Joe believes in a free Northern Ireland and is following the lead of Bobby Sands and other strikers to bring attention to their cause, and government action.

There are two love stories as well. Fergus is enamored of Cora, the daughter of one of the scientists studying the bog child. The bog child Mel is loved by Rur...her story is told as dream sequences. Both are poignant and deal with parallel political strife, sacrifice and sad farewells.

It is a book of big issues...politics, being a hero, love, death and a strong belief in doing the right thing. Siobhan Dowd's ability to tell this heartbreaking yet hopeful story is her strength. She does so with a quick pace, unforgettable characters, purpose and love...always love!

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