It was hard to remain silent. I tried. I really did, but my breathing kept getting louder as I gasped for clean air. My body was trembling, adding noise to the silence. Mum pulled me closer to her, holding tight. Dad cuddled us both. Three spoons under one duvet. With the summer heat and us huddled together the smell wasn’t amusing. I shifted about.
“Shhh,” Dad whispered. “Try not to make a sound.”
Mum kissed the back of my neck. Her wheezing chest blew out little puffs of air on to my head. “It’s OK, Charlie, everything’s going to be alright,” she said.
“Promise?” I said.
“Promise.” Mum said.
I had high hopes for this book, and for the most part I was happy with what I read from Conaghan. On the Bloomsbury website where there’s a whole host of information on this book, and on NetGalley where I got my copy from it stated that it would be perfect for readers who enjoyed Patrick Ness, John Boyne and Malorie Blackman. Now if you’ve been following this blog for the year that it’s been running you may have noticed that I am a huge fan of Patrick Ness’ work. I wanted this book to live up to those high standards that I have in place for young adult novels.
“The Bombs That Brought Us Together” follows Charlie Law who lives in Little Town, which is on the border of Old Country. They are under a regime in Little Town where there’s a curfew and other such rules put in place for what is assumed to be their safety. Charlie then meets a boy around his age called Pavel (Pav) Duda who is a refugee from Old Country. His family have left the troubles there in order to live what they believe to be a better life in Little Town. However things slowly start to crumble around the two boys, which culminates in the dropping of bombs and the infiltration of Old Country soldiers.
Now when I read the synopsis of this book before I requested it I was so excited. I love reading about societies that differ from my own and how they function, as well as having a really keen interest in cultural differences. When I saw this novel focusses on a refugee I was overwhelmingly excited to read it. What I discovered was that actually, Little Town is essentially England. In an interview that Conaghan did for Bloomsbury Publishing he said that he was inspired by what happened in Crimea and how refugees, mainly children and their mothers sought refuge in England. I felt that through the very British colloquialisms in the language that I was maybe too involved in the story. Usually I don’t have an issue with such but in the context of this story I felt that I needed to understand Little Town and Old Country as two very different places from where I was, so that then I could choose which pieces of the story I wanted to take away and say that I understood that that was something that England was currently experiencing. I think that this may not be a problem to most people, but I felt that the use of terms such as “scran” and “eejit” which are both British colloquialisms made it almost too specific rather than general as the two place names would suggest.
However I felt that the characters were incredibly well written. The dialogue, if you disregard my previous concern about the colloquialisms, is very natural and therefore seemingly real. I can imagine many people reading the conversations through and realising that they themselves may have said them. The character of Pav is probably one of the characters I liked most and this was purely through Conaghan’s characterisation. His use of dialogue and the broken English gave me a great sense of his confusion around the world and I could imagine being in his shoes, moving to somewhere where you didn’t know the “lingo”. Yet for me, Charlie Law wasn’t the best character. He had some characterisation yet I didn’t really know what he stood for. I wouldn’t have wanted him on my side during an argument as he seemed a little too weak to really stand up for what he believed in, and all of the things he really wanted to say weren’t ever said. Also he relationship with Erin F is something that confused me entirely. I’m almost 90% sure I’m right in saying that Charlie is only meant to be 14/15 years old in this novel, so it confused me that he was so sexually aware. In places, particularly talking about the use of the shed, he makes comments about Erin F which he distracts himself from but I’m pretty sure this is suggesting a sexual relationship with her. I feel that in places Charlie was written as older than he actually is which could be a societal comment about how war makes you grow up incredibly quickly, yet for me it stood out as a strange step back from the character.
Erin F however is a great character in this book. She stands for the stereotypical female role I believe. She’s the pretty girl who is the love interest which could be seen as a cliché yet she is strong enough to speak her mind, especially regarding the Old Country hospital where she has to take her mum. We’re never told what’s wrong with her mum specifically yet at the end of the novel there’s a reference to Erin F shaving her head to support her mum which makes me think that perhaps it is cancer, although this isn’t specified. What I love most about Erin F is how she’s so dedicated to looking after her mother and no regime or old country infiltrator is going to stand in her way of doing that.
Marcy Lewis was also another female character that I enjoyed reading about and wished had been more of a part of the story. I feel that Mercy had a lot more to offer as a character than what was actually given to us as readers. She initially starts out as a love interest for Pav, showing his vulnerable side and showing that not everyone hates people from Old Country, which is fine. I didn’t mind this actually as I felt that she was a really sweet character and I wanted her and Pav to be together from the moment that I heard about her. Yet later in the book she begins to really develop and discuss the politics of the Old Country Vs Little Town battle and she makes an incredible case for the fact that before, under the Little Town regime, that they wouldn’t have been able to talk about how they really felt living there, but now they were able to do so freely. I think that I would’ve personally preferred more of Mercy Lewis throughout the novel, just to maybe give a little more background to the whole situation from a more political standpoint.
There are three characters in this novel who I really dislike. Two come as a package. Max and Bones are meant to be disliked. They’re the bullies at Charlie and Pav’s school, who ultimately fear what they don’t know, that being Old Country and by association they hate Pav. These two are, whilst being horrible people, a great source of comic relief at least during a couple of scenes where Bones is really unable to make up an argument of his own so simply copies Max’s comments in a slightly more dumbed down manner. I think this a great exploration of how people copy what they’re told by others who are trying to scaremonger them.
The Big Man is the other character I’m not truly a fan of. I don’t know if I just don’t see how he really fits into the whole story and therefore have missed out on the key reason for why he’s such a great character, but honestly I cannot pin point a single reason for really having him there. Honestly I feel that he could’ve been taken out and the whole story could’ve continued regardless, with a little more focus on the politics. He’s meant to be a leader within the regime, with eyes and ears all over the place and yet he doesn’t seem to have a grip on the infiltrators who are known for taking his guys in and torturing them until they spill his secrets. Additionally I feel that he may have been written in as purely a test for Charlie’s strength and assertiveness, yet in no part does Charlie stand up to The Big Man. I wish that Charlie had before the very end of the novel.
I think this novel had a lot of potential to show the effects of a war on refugees and the people they befriend. I like the idea of the regime and the strict boundaries that are put up in order to protect and I enjoyed to see how those changed. What I struggled with though was how some of the characters fitted in and how the pacing of the novel allowed it all to play out. I felt that everything moved almost too quickly for my own liking towards the end as I feel like I missed out on certain pieces of information. The themes are really important to this piece and yet I feel like I missed out on a few of them towards the end. Charlie and Pav’s friendship despite country of origin is inspiring and something I enjoyed having a focus on, additionally I loved the focus on how the families are both treated and react between each other. Yet what we lost was the control of the parents which once again made Charlie and Pav appear older than they actually were.
All in all towards the end I found myself caring more about Charlie’s mum and her inhaler than I did about his work for The Big Man. I wanted to have more about Pav and his life back home rather than him just complaining about where he is now. And I really just wanted more of an exploration of how society built itself back up after the devastation of the bombs. After all, this novel is called “The Bombs That Brought Us Together”.
Total pages – 320
Total read time – 4.5 hours
Rating /10 – 5
Recommend – Maybe
Brian Conaghan interview for Bloomsbury Publishing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7x4hGGr8ks