CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006
On the one hand, Safe House can simply be read as a thriller, one filled with lots of action which occurs over a period of less than two weeks during which time Liam must three times flee from his homicidal pursuer. However, the book’s happenings take place against the background of the Troubles, the attempts by Irish Catholics to unite the divided Ireland while the Loyalists, largely Protestants, try to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. Consequently, Safe House also offers middle school readers an opportunity to gain some preliminary insights into this conflict. As Liam and readers come to learn, retaliation was the simple motive for the murder of Liam’s parents. Because a jailed Loyalist paramilitary chief had been stabbed to death by a Catholic prisoner, Protestant Loyalists were exacting revenge on Catholics, and the Fogartys, although they had no connection to the prison stabbing, became a convenient target. Inspector Osborne of the Royal Ulster Constabulary explains to Liam and the Cassidy family, “Dan Forgery was well known. He was a community leader and a peacemaker. Everyone knew your father. The price of fame in Belfast is sometimes death.”
Heneghan uses numerous flashbacks throughout the novel to provide readers with some background both on Liam’s past family life and the Troubles, the latter’s causes and the impacts of the sectarian violence on ordinary peoples’ daily lives. As additional background to the historical roots of the internal political/religious strife, Heneghan includes a concluding two-page “Appendix” of “a few [nine] of the dates that Liam memorized in school,” dates stretching from1170 AD, when the King of England declared himself also to be the King of Ireland, to April 10, 1998, when a peace accord, aka the Good Friday Agreement, was signed.
While Delia Cassidy, along with Liam’s memories of his father’s moral stances, are the book’s strongest voices against employing violence to resolve disputes, Heneghan also suggests that a solution to Northern Ireland’s problems may be found in having members of the next generation learn to work together as they grow up. Both Liam and his best friend, Rory Cassidy, are part of the Belfast Community Youth Circus. “Started originally as a way of creating friendship and harmony between young Catholics and Protestants, it continues to encourage kids to forget their differences and work and train together.” Not only does Liam establish friendships with Protestants in the circus school, especially with Nicole Easterbrook, but he learned valuable balancing skills which came into play during his final encounter with the Mole.
Although the brevity of Safe House limits the book’s ability to deal with the complexity of Northern Ireland’s violence, the book remains a good read, one which might stimulate some resourceful middle schoolers to seek out other resources on the topic.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.