The Bombs That Brought Us Together

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Brian Conaghan, The Bombs That Brought Us Together,  Bloomsbury/Allen & Unwin,  May 2016,  368pp.,  $16.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781408878415

Told in a unique style The Bombs That Brought Us Together follows the story of fourteen-year-old Charlie Law who lives in Little Town, a small country boarding the larger, stronger Old Country. Little Town and Old Country both have their share of issues but at least Charlie knows the rules of Little Town. He can deal with the imposed curfews, the censorship and The Rascals – the heavy men of The Regime. So when Old Country bombs his city and sends in their soldiers, Charlie isn’t pleased. Then when refugee Pavel Duda moves into Charlie’s block things get even more complicated. As their friendship grows Charlie begins to question popular opinion and wonder whether he has put his faith in the wrong person all along.

The first half of the book is a real slog. I had to drag myself to it every night. I found the writing, while unique, hard to get into and the constant stream of consciousness at times difficult to follow and exhausting. Add to this a heavy backstory and huge dose of political rhetoric and honestly, if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I’m not sure I would have finished. A big problem for me was Charlie — the consummate good guy. The guy who never really has a bad thought about anyone, always wants to do the right thing and seems to be the only one who hasn’t been brainwashed — until he is. There were also too many weak connections in this book for me to fully appreciate its message. For example, in the beginning Charlie makes a big deal about staying away from the Big Man and the Rascals before suddenly deciding to ask the Big Man for some chairs and a table? What? Then there’s the fact he had no real friends until Pav the refugee comes along, which seems weird since he’s later presented as the guy who gets along with everyone. But what I found the most convenient and unbelievable is when the antagonist pins all his plans on Charlie. I mean, I undestand the idea behind grooming young men to do the dirty work, but the way it was handled here seems barely plausible.

Having said that, the book wasn’t all bad. There were some deep and poignant insights and Pav was a great character. And if you want a way to discuss political differences between countries and issues surrounding refugees then yes, this is a book that will help you do it. It raises all these issues and  Teacher’s Notes/a Reading Guide have been created to help you. It also won the UK’s Costa Children’s Book Award 2016. But if you are looking to recommend a book with these issues that is also a great story, fast paced and with a great main character, then I’m not sure I would choose The Bombs That Brought Us Together (even if it has a cracking title!). You are better off reading the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness which also features an unique voice but tackles these issues, in my opinion, much better and in a more interesting way. It also has a genuine female protagonist which this book doesn’t have — all the females in this book felt superficial, especially Erin F.

Reviewing books which deal with relevant and important issues is always hard, but somehow it becomes even harder when I don’t love them. I’m grateful that the issues this book raises — refugees, oppression, war, political differences — have been tackled and confronted in a book for teens. But despite its excellent intentions, unfortunately I personally found the story dull and unconvincing.

Reviewed by Renee Mihulka