Bog Child, By Siobhan Dowd

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The Independent Culture

The last novel of the late Siobhan Dowd and winner of the Cilip Carnegie Medal, Bog Child is a spectacular demonstration that books for younger readers can handle the big themes. It's a historical novel, set in a Northern Irish border town in 1981, and focalised through Fergus, teenage son of a Fenian family. He finds the body of a girl buried in a peat bog – not, as he first thinks, a victim of the Troubles, but an Iron Age girl who might have been murdered, or ceremonially sacrificed.

At night the girl comes to Fergus in his dreams, and gradually unfolds her story to him; by day, he has to contend with his parents' quarrelling, growing tension in his community over the Troubles, his brother dying on hunger strike in prison, A-levels and first love.

The weighty themes are leavened by humour and sympathy for characters on both sides of the divide, and the plot is full of surprises. It doesn't pull its punches, but ultimately the message is of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. In one sense it's a novel about death – and Dowd must have known how ill she was with cancer when she was writing it – but it is suffused with a love of life.