Saturday, 14 May 2011

Across The Barricades (Joan Lingard)

--The blurb--
"Kevin is Catholic. Sadie is Protestant. In Belfast they are supposed to be enemies - so what chance do they have when they fall in love?"

--The review--
In spite of having studied history at school until I was 18, I know disarmingly little about the history of the world in which we live. Perhaps mercifully, however, Northern Ireland and the Troubles were among the units of study, and while of course several aspects of this tale are fictionalised, Joan Lingard unmasks some of the extremities suffered by people living there without pulling any punches. People were, it appears, quite literally prepared to die for their personal choices, and prepared to equally risk the deaths of other innocents.

Even though the basis of the story is fairly harrowing, Lingard introduces these issues gently to the teens and pre-teens at which this book is targeted, concentrating mainly on the human interest behind the love story while keeping history on the periphery. The plot is of course affected by political goings-on, but jargon is kept to the barest minimum, and focus is maintained on what has happened, rather than on why it has happened, making for a good introduction to this time in history (for the target age group, why these things occurred can come later). It is also helpful and moving with regard to showing how close our world has been to terrorism for so many years; even with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, it is important to remember the sad fact that terrorism did not start or end with September 11th.

The author has also taken care to write concisely, packing a compelling story with believable characters into a text of readable length. A short story that can be read in one or two hours, this novella is an easy read in terms of length, vocabulary, and the success with which the author sustains readers' interest in the plot. However, it is of course not an easy read given the gravity of the subjects that are raised, and while young readers will naturally have questions that need answering after and during reading, adult readers too may well feel compelled to go and learn more about the country's devastating history - it being crucial also to remember that Across The Barricades, having been written in 1972, precedes by quite some years the pivotal Good Friday Agreement and the decommissioning of the Provisional IRA.

Finding out that Across The Barricades is part of a series (of which this book is the second of a quintet) that continues to feature the protagonists, Kevin and Sadie, is heartening: we have engaged with these main characters and do not wish to leave them just yet, and perhaps with further books, we are able to see not only what becomes of them but also of Northern Ireland, as seen through the author's eyes.

Other works by Joan Lingard*
The Twelfth Day of July (1970)
Into Exile (1973)
A Proper Place (1975)
Hostages to Fortune (1976)

*All of these books comprise the remainder of the Kevin and Sadie quintet. A far more exhaustive list of Joan Lingard's books for children and adults is available on Wikipedia.

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