The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan (2016, Bloomsbury, in paperback) 

The 2016 Costa Children’s Book Prize winner is a powerful story of friendship across impossible divides. The author draws on a number of influences, such as George Orwell’s ‘1984’, as well as more recent events from history (The Troubles seem particularly relevant) in telling the tale of Charlie from ‘Little Town’ and Pavel from ‘Old Country’; teenage boys from two nations in a permanent state of conflict.

The boys’ friendship is very well told, from initial suspicion through to a close and lasting bond. Along the way, Brian Conaghan does not shy away from the harsh and brutal realities of conflict, while his ear for dialogue, which is often peppered with profanity, is accurate.

The lead characters are very well drawn, as are the lesser ones, such as the weaselly informant Norman, through to ‘The Big Man’, the Fagin-like boss of all things criminal, sympathetic and savvy Mercy, and Erin F, the object of Charlie’s affections. Although the parallels with current conflicts and civil wars are obvious, these never get in the way of what is a compelling story.

Parents should be aware that this hard-hitting and gritty novel contains graphic language and descriptions of violence, although these are honest and realistic, and not gratuitous. The book barely fits into the ‘young adult’ category. Many adults will find ‘The Bombs that Brought Us Together’ a gripping read, which may have influenced the Costa judges in their decision making. Bob