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The Book in Brief
Fergus is a Likeable Character Caught in a Conflict
Fergus McCann, the 18-year-old main character, finds a "bog child" in the peat fields where he and his uncle Tally are filching peat to make a few extra bucks. Peat preserves the dead, and the bog child who originally looks like a murder victim turns out to be almost 2000-years-old. Her discovery brings a mother and daughter archeology team to Furgus's town near the North and South border and to his home, which is also a bed and breakfast. Fergus falls for Cora, the daughter. Also, Fergus keeps dreaming about Mel, the bog child, and her problems.
The McCann Family is Believable
At home, his family is being torn apart by his brother Joe’s choice to join a hunger strike. Joe is being held in Long Kesh, which is known as the Maze because of his activity with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Fergus’s mother presses him to study hard for his A-exams so that he can study to be a doctor in Scotland. Fergus also has the stress of practicing for his driving exam. His two little sisters tease and help the reader see a true family.
Blackmail and Hard Choices
His love of running ends up getting him blackmailed to be a courier of illegal items. Michael Rafters promises to help get his brother to stop the starvation strike if he only will run items between the North and South, which includes a military checkpoint. Fergus is torn because he doesn’t want to be involved in the conflict, but he wants to help his brother. In addition, he makes friends with the “enemy," a checkpoint guard named Owen who enjoys playing trombone.
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Ideas for the Classroom
Teens reading Bog Child in America will need additional discussion of the dialect from Ireland. For example, Fergus wears “trainers” not sneakers, and he calls his mother and father “mam” and “da.” A basic discussion of Ireland's location, topography, and basic history will also help students to understand the novel better.
Students will need to know basic information about the Irish “Troubles” in the 1980’s. In addition, there is some language and excessive drinking of alcohol. Fergus and Cora’s sexual relationship is handled with sensitivity, but never the less it is in the novel. Plus, Fergus struggles with religion and his belief in God. In addition, his family must make a gut wrenching choice to allow Joe to die from starvation or to start feeding him intravenously when he slips into a coma. Some of these topics will be great for class discussion.
Independent or Paired Reading
For the mature adolescent readers, this novel is well written and offers many topics for students to write a literary analysis, character sketch or simple book report.
Teachers can give a book talk about the book's features, Irish connections and links to archaeology. Ask students to read it in pairs or to read it independently. For those reading it in pairs, ask them to keep a conversation log of their discussions and give time in class weekly for pairs to discuss the book.
In addition, students could complete research on Ireland’s history, Celtic traditions, the conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants, bog people and/or the peat bogs.
To integrate science, the archaeology website has an article "Bodies of the Bogs." It offers interesting information and super links with illustrations of what the bog people wore and did. This activity could become a group research project with a PowerPoint presentation.
This book offers so much to discuss that the possibilities are endless. Dowd's other novels Swift Pure Cry and The London Eye Mystery have also won awards and may be offered as other possible reads for students. Dowd was a gifted writer and her work can be enjoyed by readers who are adolescents or adults.