Charlie lives in Little Town, under a corrupt and repressive regime. His friend, Pavel, is a refugee from hostile, neighbouring Old Country. When the inevitable bombs come, the boys are drawn into a chain of dark and traumatic events, that threatens not only their friendship, but also life itself. This isn’t a book I’d ordinarily be drawn to but I feel rewarded for stepping outside my comfort zone.
There is an affecting scene in the opening chapter, where Charlie and his parents take hopeless refuge under a duvet, during a bomb raid. Charlie senses his father’s fear:
Dad’s aren’t meant to get scared. Dads protect. Dads make things better. But I guess there are some things in life even dads can’t affect. Bombs for one.
His parents hate the regime, but they are cowed by it, and Charlie has absorbed their helplessness by osmosis. This is just the way life is.
Thankfully, there is laughter too. Fun is poked at Charlie’s heart thumping romantic crush and Pavel’s struggles with the language barrier. Male friendship is beautifully celebrated. The boys tease and cuss each other but they also display great vulnerability and loyalty. They will come to trust each other with their lives.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is inspired by real situations of conflict. Charlie and Pavel represent a long lineage- the children of Belfast, Palestine, Syria. 50 years ago, 20 years ago. Today, and sadly, tomorrow. They become friends in the face of adversity, and both have to challenge their ingrained prejudices. Charlie realises that he has blindly accepted propaganda, it’s time he learned to think for himself.
This is such an important theme. It coaxes the teenage reader into asking big questions in their own lives, and not merely to run with the herd. Parental input is invaluable as this is an excellent springboard for discussion. It would also make a stimulating classroom choice. A challenging read for free-thinking teens.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is published by Bloomsbury’s Childrens, 320 pages.