Review - The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan



Every now and then, Mum and Dad get all sentimental about how life used to be, and I begin to understand how much it's changed in Little Town and why Dad gets so angry and Mum gets so frustrated. Of course I don't remember any of it, but back in olden times, before the Regime took over, a footloose and fancy-free young couple enjoyed life ... 

(The Bombs that Brought Us Together, Brian Conaghan, P36.) 

Charlie Law has always lived in Little Town. He speaks the lingo and knows the rules. Rules like what time curfew starts, and how many people can talk together on the street. Pav and his family are refugees from Old Country. People in Old Country wanted to kill his family, so they escaped to Little Town, where most people want to kill them anyhow. Charlie realises Pav is unfamiliar with the rulebook of life in Little Town. The boys meet for lessons in Charlie’s shed, and realise they have one thing in common: both would like one space where they can live in peace.

Charlie and Pav have their shed. They want to make it comfortable and secure. It will a be a place of education, a place where they can bring girls. Nothing in Little Town happens without the knowledge of The Big Man. The Big Man's nameless hints at the fact people are led by someone whose motives they do not know. The Big Man agrees to help Charlie furnish the shed, and provides the inhalers Charlie’s mother needs to breathe. In Little Town, peace of mind comes at a cost. A cost The Big Man says Charlie and Pav can pay ‘later’. As Charlie says, they have been ‘caught by the short and curlies’.

When Little Town is bombed, The Big Man says it is time to decide between ‘them and us’. Pav’s family are targeted by people who believe anybody from Old Country is an enemy. At the same time, Pav waits for the knock on the door – if the Old Country army find them, they will be killed as traitors. If Charlie wants his mother to receive medication, if he wants Pav’s family to be protected, he will have to do what The Big Man Wants … won’t he?

What I love about this book is how much was conveyed through the character's voices. Pav’s emerging grasp of a new language is represented, but more than that these boys were clearly adolescent. There is a conflict between the childhood they are trying to outgrow and the different influences they are trying to emulate. When the bombs fall, Charlie huddles under the duvet with his mother and father. When the silence falls, he remembers his tough-guy role models and decides to ‘bring out the man’. Depth of character comes from the exploration of conflict between the state of childhood which the Charlie is trying outgrow, and the adult influences he emulates. 

The characters want space to grow, and to fall in love free from restriction, or the fear that their girlfriends will be bombed before the next school bell. The dark themes were exaggerated by Charlie’s naïve voice. He makes lists of advice for other people to follow, but seems in need of some reassurance himself.

The theme of political freedom is explored from an interesting standpoint. With restrictions on information, it is difficult for anybody inside Little Town to make an informed decision. The ending moved me – without spoilers, I think Charlie concludes it is not about them and us, but about deciding what it is which unites different cultures as ‘humanity’. It is unsurprising themes like this are recurring in recent YA novels, and good to know that writers as assured as Conaghan are taking them on.  

ISBN: 9781408855768
Page Count: 361

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  1. That one looks interesting! Would you recommend I read it personally? You have a general idea of what I like in books etc.

  2. Thanks Simon - yes, I would recommend it to you. You might find the conflict between Little Town and Old Country interesting, and Charlie is hilarious. Other people have said Conaghan writes the best male characters, and I would agree from my reading of TBtBUS. Can't wait to read When Mr Dog Bites.