The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brain Conaghan
Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes forever.
Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town's rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There's a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.
Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will . . . . But he's got to kill someone else first.
Review: This is one of those books that sound really cool when it’s described to you, but the execution left me disappointed.
The narrator, Charlie Law, lives in Little Town, which has been at war with Old Country for years. One day, a refugee family from Old Country moves into Charlie’s apartment building. At first, everyone is nervous about the refugees because Old Country’s army has just invaded Little Town and toppled its government. Now Little Town is run by soldiers and vicious bands of “Rascals.” Charlie becomes friends with the refugee family and their son, Pav. When the escalating conflict in Little Town starts to threaten Charlie and Pav’s families, the boys are drawn into the orbit of a dangerous gang leader. The leader agrees to protect their families . . . if Charlie agrees to assassinate one of the leader’s enemies.
There’s a lot to like about this novel. I think it does an excellent job of showing the complexities of war. There aren’t many good guys in this story. Both Little Town and Old Country are messed-up places. Pav’s family is treated horribly by the residents of Little Town, but the author helps the reader understand why Little Town doesn’t trust Old Country. The characters’ suspicion of Pav’s family is understandable, even if it isn’t morally right.
Charlie goes against everything Little Town has taught him to become friends with Pav. He knows that the refugees aren’t responsible for the bombs. The government of Old Country deserves Charlie’s anger, not the Old Country refugees. I like that Pav and Charlie are best friends, but they still have communication problems. Pav is depressed and needs help, but Charlie is so focused on his own issues that he doesn’t notice. It’s realistic.
I have mixed feelings about how this story is told. It’s clear that the author is trying to make this book relatable for kids who have never lived in a war zone. Little Town has shopping centers, apartment buildings, and skate parks. That’s all you’re really told about it. It could be a stand-in for almost any major city. Since the setting is so nonspecific, it’s bland. It was hard for me to imagine it as a real place.
The names of things didn’t help the setting feel more real. The warring countries are called “Little Town” and “Old Country.” The characters speak “lingos” instead of languages. The bad guys are called “Big Man” and “Rascals.” It was impossible for me to take any of it seriously. I think the strange word choices undermine the important messages of the story. This is a middlegrade book, so maybe the author was trying to tone down the scariness of war? I don’t know. It made me roll my eyes. I appreciate that he was trying to make the story relatable, but I think it would’ve been more effective if he’d used real places.
My biggest issue with the book is Charlie. This is just personal preference, but I didn’t like his “voice.” He repeats himself a lot and speaks in clichés. He’s also an annoying blend of naïve and arrogant. I actually put the book down several times because I couldn’t stand him anymore. It didn’t help that the pacing is really slow in the first half of the novel. I may have liked Charlie more if he’d been doing something. The only thing I like about him is his friendship with Pav. They’re loyal to each other. It’s cute.
Maybe I’m not the right audience for this book. It is meant for kids, after all. It may be a good teaching tool for kids who are learning about war and refugees. It captures the refugee experience, but it wraps it in a thick layer of fiction to keep the experience from being too intense.