Gallagher opens with a blockbuster: Maeve, just 12, is caught squarely in the Troubles in 1969 Belfast, Ireland, trapped inside her home, which Protestant extremists have just set on fire.
Unfortunately, it takes nearly the rest of the tale to reach that level of suspense again. Catholic Maeve has been befriended by Jewish twins Emma and Dylan, in Belfast while their father reports on the sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics. Through the twins, she meets Sammy, the son of an oft-drunk Protestant extremist. Although initially shaky, their friendship grows until, in a thrilling climax, Sammy assumes the huge risk of making his way across the violence-torn city to rescue Maeve. While readers are familiar with wars that wrack distant parts of the world, this accurate depiction of violence in a familiar and seemingly benign area will surprise and educate many—a worthy accomplishment. Less admirable is the prose that nearly always defaults to telling rather than showing. Even Maeve’s relationship with Sammy is merely reported: “The more he got to know her the more he liked her, and although he didn’t share her nationalist views, he had found himself influenced by some of the things she said.”
Although the divisive violence of the Troubles is clearly shown, the storytelling is less successful, minimizing the potential impact of this tragic tale. (Historical fiction. 11-15)