Sarah's Stars

Siobhan Dowd. Bog Child
David Fickling Books  $19.99  ISBN 978-0-385-75169-8  327 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

They hadn't noticed him. The orange vehicle was reversing and the cutter section rose to full height, with its sharp edge poised as if to attack.

"Stop," Fergus shrieked, springing up. "Stop!"

The man in the machine didn't hear, but another man walking towards the cut jerked his head round and stared at Fergus.

"Stop! Please."

The second man made an arm signal, as if to say, You're for the chop, and the JCB cut out. In the distance came the wail of a siren.

Fergus moved forward so that the man in the JCB could see him.

"Stop," he called again. His voice carried around the bog-land. "There's a body in there."

When Fergus and his uncle go digging for peat in the Irish mountains, he never suspects he'd happen upon a crime scene. But a hand in the mud turns into the mangled body of a young girl. But when the police and forensic detectives swoop in upon the bog and the body actually turns out to be thousands of years old, perfectly preserved in the mud, everything in Fergus' life goes crazy.

Even before the dead girl in the bog, Fergus was having difficulties. His entire family is stressed out because of the hunger strike that the other son, Joe is taking part in, the political uprising between the North and the South of Ireland is bringing trouble upon everyone, his parents won't stop arguing, if he gets less than a B on any of his exams he won't be able to pursue his dream of going to university and on top of that, he happens to be falling in love with Cora, the beautiful and smart daughter of the lady examining "Mel" for clues to her past.

But now Mel is haunting Fergus. Not in a creepy way, she's just sharing her memories of her death. But as Joe slips into a coma and a cunning ally tricks Fergus into smuggling packages across the border, the mystery of the bog child deepens. Will Mel, Cora and Fergus ever find peace?

Siobhan Dowd's third published novel is a strong novel that is proudly cultural and deceptively simple. The laconic plot deals with a vast array of topics all while leaving out grand flourishes and sparkling vocabulary. In general, though deeply powerful, it still seems a little lackluster. And compared to Dowd's previous novel, A Swift Pure Cry, it is much, much darker in tone and atmosphere. One thing that distracted me the most though was the lack of background information for us, the readers. Set in Ireland in the 1980's, it deals a lot with Irish politics and customs; things most Canadian teenagers today know absolutely nothing about. While it may provide some incentive to research a bit more and discover some Irish history, it proved to actually frustrate and confuse me because I did not know what was happening a lot of the time. We know that Fergus is smuggling things across the North-South border patrol and that his brother Joe is on hunger strike in prison, but why are they doing those things? Why is there a border patrol in the first place? We don't need a lecture on the political parties of Ireland but a little heads-up on what was going on would have been nice.

In general though, Bog Child's hopeful ending leads us warmly into the last of the novels that Siobhan Dowd left behind before she passed away tragically of cancer in 2007.

I give Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child four stars.


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