Sue Divin’s book is set in Northern Ireland during the second half of 2019, a time of significance and tension for the region and its people. But, as in her highly regarded previous novel Guard Your Heart, she also uses the story of contemporary young people to shine light on the history of the Troubles and the impact they have to this day.
Tara is Catholic, living in Derry with her single parent mum and single parent granny, and something of a rebel. Faith has grown up in rural Armagh, the only child of devout Protestant parents, church going and obedient. Could they be more different? And yet when the two meet on a ‘cross-community peace-building residential’ they have an extraordinary physical resemblance, ‘The same wavy black hair. Same fair skin. Same nose. Cheek bones. Stance. Everything.’ Surely, they must be related. An initially combative relationship turns into friendship, which is just as well because as the truth about their shared parentage emerges, with it come stories of past grief, violence, and long-buried family secrets.
Nor is it just the older generation who are suffering: Tara’s boyfriend Oran was kneecapped by the New IRA and, forced to leave hometown and family, takes his own life. Faith’s uncle is scarred by his own past and her cousin is left to cope with his alcoholism and suicide attempts. Faith herself is struggling to hide her sexuality from her parents knowing that their church, one of the mainstays of all their lives, will not accept it.
Like most young people born after 1998, Tara knows little about the Troubles and her introduction to them – reading headlines on crumpled old newspapers used to wrap her grandma’s unused wedding presents, a litany of murder and cruelty – will serve as an education to many readers. Divin is a peace worker and reconciliation is a huge theme throughout her book, with emphasis on the importance of talking, honestly and openly, and the ability of people to heal when truths are finally told. It’s proof of her skill as a writer that the story seldom feels didactic, despite the weight of the issues it describes. Tara and Faith are credible characters, Tara’s sense of humour in particular providing a lightness amongst the heartbreak, and both offer us a sense of hope for the future.