Book review: The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Following the success of When Mr Dog Bites, his powerful novel about a boy who suffers from Tourette syndrome, which was shortlisted for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal, Scottish-born, Dublin-based author Brian Conaghan returns with another Young Adult novel, The Bombs That Brought Us Together.

Brian Conaghans deliberately uncertain setting gives his story a wider resonance

The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan | Bloomsbury, £12.99

It explores the realities of war from the point of view of those who are forced to grow up surrounded by it.

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The story revolves around protagonist Charlie Law, a 14-year-old schoolboy living within the rigidity of Little Town – a place on the brink of disarray, controlled by an ominous and ineffectual government called the “Regime” but actually run by a petty bully-cum-gangster known only as “The Big Man”. Together with his band of hooligan “Rascals”, The Big Man controls the streets and, in turn, the people of Little Town.

Charlie constantly balances his thirst for knowledge and adventure with the town rules he must adhere to – no going out after dark, no litter, no fighting, no drinking and no questions. But all this changes when Charlie meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, which sits on the border of Little Town and soon invades, bringing bombs, soldiers and a whole new set of rules.

Friendship blossoms between the two boys, with Charlie attempting to teach Pavel the language or “lingo” of Little Town in order to help him fit in and stay safe.

But soon Charlie and Pav become embroiled with The Big Man, as they attempt to acquire some black market furniture for their den.

What starts as a project for a couple of bored and suppressed teens soon turns into a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty once the bombs begin to drop, and the Wee Man, Little Town, and its rules rapidly crumble in the face of Old Country’s military prowess.

Punctuated with smatterings of hilarious off-piste humour, this aptly titled novel cleverly explores how love and friendship can blossom even in the face of profound personal and political turmoil.

And in spite of the deliberately nonspecific setting, there is much here that feels universal and – sadly – also highly topical.