When Fergus McCann, 18, crosses the border from Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic to steal peat for his uncle to sell as fuel, what he digs up is a small body, an obvious victim of violence. Are the Troubles now claiming children? he wonders. But nothing is as it seems in the late Dowd's (The London Eye Mystery) rich work, set in 1981 and exploring sacrifices made in the name of family and freedom. Archeologists suspect the body is ancient, and they overrun the hillside of Fergus's discovery. Haunted by his find, Fergus learns its story in vivid dreams. Daylight provides no respite. His brother, an imprisoned IRA member, has joined Bobby Sands's hunger strike. His father salutes; his mother grieves. Three exams away from earning entrance to medical school, Fergus doesn't understand the strikers' mission, but his brother is resolute: "A coffin's a mighty statement, Ferg." Experiencing first love with the lead archeologist's daughter, Fergus is torn when he's blackmailed into being a courier by his brother's friend. Dowd raises questions about moral choices within a compelling plot that is full of surprises, powerfully bringing home the impact of political conflict on innocent bystanders. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
Dowd's novel is a good one for teens interested in more than shopping malls and coffee shops; it's for those intrigued by social history. Set in the 1980s during the time of the Troubles between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the protagonist is 18-year-old Fergus McCann, who lives in the rural North with his family. Political feelings about Irish history and boundary lines run deep. Staying out of extremist groups and happily obeying English law are all but impossible. Fergus's brother Joe is already in jail for terrorist activity and has joined the hunger strike of other "political prisoners" who want to separate themselves from common criminals. The Catholic Church has deemed that starvation in such circumstances is not suicide, and so the McCann family must watch in silent desperation as Joe wastes away and gradually falls into a coma. Meanwhile, while out digging turf with his Uncle Tally one day, Fergus discovers the perfectly preserved body of a murdered child from the Iron Age. He is fascinated by this find and befriends the scientists and archeologists who flock to his small mountain town to discover the girl's mysteries. Even as he struggles with the issues of the present day, tries to finish school, falls in love, and befriends an English soldier, he hears the voice of the girl in the bog unfolding her story from almost 2,000 years before. Strangely, her life has relevance to Fergus's dilemmas and her courage gives him the courage to act according to his conscience. An absorbing novel, with deep themes about human conflict, superstition, and the search for peace. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
Children's Literature - Danielle Williams
Set against the backdrop of the hunger strikes during the summer of 1981 in Northern Ireland, this coming of age story is a mass of fear, bitter memories and uncertainty in a world seemingly on the brink of disaster. Fergus only wants to leave the mess in Northern Ireland and have a chance at living a life away from all the troubles. And yet, with his brother in prison joining the hunger strikers, and the discovery of a bog child, his summer is set on a path he could never have imagined. He is quickly pulled into the controversy surrounding the discovery of the bog child as well as the troubles themselves. The history surrounding events in the novel will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to many who read it, but there is sufficient explanation throughout the narrative that will allow anyone unfamiliar with the troubles in Northern Ireland a firm enough grasp to enjoy the novel. The fast pace and fascinating subject matter make this an enjoyable read for adults as well as teens. Reviewer: Danielle Williams
VOYA - Jeff Mann
When Fergus McCann finds a 2000-year-old body of a young girl buried in a bog, his life begins to unravel. As Fergus tries to solve the mystery surrounding the body, he gets word that his jailed brother, Joe, has begun a hunger strike protesting the Troubles in Ireland. His family also begins to crumble as his father and mother argue over whether Joe's decision is noble or a pointless path to slow death. Fergus is directly drawn into the Troubles between Ireland and England when he is blackmailed into becoming a smuggler, he believes, for the IRA. Amidst the conflict, Fergus falls for a girl examining the body in the bog. He also struggles to study for exams so he can keep alive his dream of becoming a doctor and the first McCann to attend college. Set during the early 1980s in Ireland, the novel expertly uses the country and its conflicts as a backdrop for this coming-of-age novel. Dowd realistically depicts a character trapped between Irish Republicans and loyalists, between his mother and father, and ultimately between boyhood and adulthood. A few surprises keep the reader moving along as the novel juggles several story lines. The conclusion, however, although interesting seems a bit too tidy and slightly abrupt. Dowd, who died of cancer in 2007, has an ear for dialect and an eye for detail that creates a powerful novel filled with tension, strife, and subtle humor. Reviewer: Jeff Mann
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
It is 1981, and 18-year-old Fergus lives on the border between Northern Ireland and the south. His older brother, Joe, a member of the Provisional IRA, is jailed at Long Kesh and joins a hunger strike. The family is traumatized, and Fergus does his best to comfort his mother and to convince Joe that his "sacrifice" for the cause is not worth it. Fergus has been pressured (blackmailed) to smuggle packages for the IRA, but wants nothing more than to leave Ireland and study to become a doctor. His life becomes even more complicated when he and his uncle discover the body of a young girl while pilfering peat. It turns out to be 2000 years old. Thus begins a double narrative that involves a love story and a discussion of destiny and self-sacrifice. Fergus's story includes his struggle to understand his brother's actions and his growing love for the daughter of the archaeologist called in to investigate the Iron Age discovery. Interspersed is the story of Mel, the bog child, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to unite her people, and who finds love at the end of her life. The two narratives work beautifully together. The love story between Fergus and Cora is depicted with tenderness, and their adolescent sexuality is sensitively portrayed. Readers will come away with a strong sense of the time periods (especially of the "Troubles") through dialogue and action. This compelling read is lyrically written and contains authentic dialogue and challenging and involving moral issues. It's a first, and a must-have purchase.-Jennifer Ralston, Harford County Public Library, Belcamp, MD
This haunting, suspenseful novel follows the parallel stories of Fergus, facing the final high-school exams that will decide his future, and a murdered Iron Age "bog child" he names Mel after he discovers her well-preserved body in a peat marsh. Living in Northern Ireland in 1981, Fergus is deeply involved in the Troubles between warring factions, as his imprisoned Republican older brother Joe joins a hunger strike. Fergus reluctantly becomes a smuggler of possible explosives in an attempt to protect both Joe and a Welsh border guard he's befriended. At the same time he begins a relationship with Cora, the conflicted daughter of the archaeologist researching Mel's death. Mel haunts Fergus's dreams, relating her own tragic but brave end; her story provides additional resonance to a tale that ends with a glimmer of hope for a better future. A sense of doom, perfectly captured, and images of sacrifice hang over the well-developed characters, making this a painful and moving read. Pitch-perfect in capturing the often futile struggles for the many victims of Irish independence over the millennia. (Fiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2008:
"[A] painful and moving read."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, August 2008:
"This compelling read is lyrically written and contains authentic dialogue and challenging and involving moral issues."
Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2008:
"A strong story that is rich in language, setting, and theme."
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, July 28, 2008:
“Dowd raises questions about moral choices within a compelling plot that is full of surprises.”