Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

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

Discussion Questions and Ideas:
1. Respect for the dead. What was the discussion between Gardai (police in the Republic of Ireland) and RUC (police in Northern Ireland) when they thought the body was that of a murder victim? How did the attitudes of local authorities on both sides of the border change when they discovered the body was ancient?
2. Lessons of the past. Are Fergus’s visions of the bog girl true or are they mere dreams? Do his visions of her life and death help him sort out the swirl of events in his own life? Are there parallels?
3. Choices and responsibility. Each of the characters in Bog Child made choices. What choices did Brennor make and where did his choices lead? What choice did Owain Jenkins make? Why?Fergus agreed to carry packages for Michael Rafters (Dafters). How does Michael get Fergus to do it?
4. Conflict and the search for peace. Standing on the gallows block, Mel says “The faces were cruel, solemn, pitying, triumphant, sad, anguished. Brennor’s face and Rur’s face were side by side. One ashen, the other broken. I foresaw the coming years of violence, the old grudges leapfrogging over generations, reappearing in different forms.” What does Mel hope to accomplish by her self sacrifice? Her vision of endless violence fueled by old grudges down through the ages has proven true. In the present, are any characters in the book working toward peace?
5. Joe says "A coffin's a mighty statement, Ferg." What does Joe McCann hope to accomplish by his hunger-strike and death? What does the death of each character say to us: Mel? Joe? Owain? Uncle Tally?
6. Fergus tells his Da (page 294) “It may be a sin to intervene with Joe, Da. But it’s a worse sin if we don’t .” He swallowed, his heart thumping. “If we do nothing, there’ll be no forgveness. Never. The future will go wrong. Everything will go wrong. I know it, Da. Believe me.” What is right and what is wrong in this situation? Talk about the conflict within the McCann family, between Fergus’s Mam and Da. Is that conflict resolved?
7. What choices does Fergus make in this book? Where does each of his choices lead him?

From Rhode Island Teen Book Award