Nik is a high school student in ‘Cityside’, divided from ‘Southside’ by a bridge. The hostiles live in Southside, making raids every now and then, blowing up Cityside landmarks until the Cityside army forces them back and retakes their territory. Citysiders believe they are on the privileged side and that the Southsiders live in poverty and squalor.
Nik doesn’t remember his parents, he assumes they died in a former uprising when he was small. He was delivered to the boarding school at which he is just about to complete and has dedicated his everything to working towards getting recruited by ISIS – the Internal Security and Intelligence Services, who are behind the war. They take the very best – the smartest in maths and physics, the strongest, the mostly religiously pliable. Nik is one of the smartest in his graduating class and it’s widely assumed that ISIS will recruit him.
When they don’t, everyone is stunned, most of all Nik. He tries to seek answers from some of his teachers but they refuse to talk about it, saying that it’s not for them to say. That tells Nik that there’s a reason that they didn’t choose him and he’s desperate to find out what it is. Before he can, Southside bomb the school and some of his friends are killed and the younger brother, Sol of one of them is kidnapped and taken over the bridge. Nik and Sol’s sister Fyffe travel into Southside, determined to find Sol and bring him back. Nik is able to speak a little of the language due to his time hanging out with one of the security men at the boarding school, who spoke it and Fyffee has a rudimentary knowledge of the language as well from the servants her wealthy family employs. They know Sol will be being held for ransom and Nik and Fyffe want to find him in Southside before any offers and deals can be brokered. Nik and Fyffe seem to fit in easily to Southside society, Fyffe beginning to work in the infirmary caring for the wounded and Nik working with some of the technology which allows him access to the sort of information he needs to find out just who might be holding Sol.
That’s not the only information that Nik finds in Southside. The mystery of his name and his parentage will be brought to the surface and Nik will discover that things are not as they have seemed whilst he has been safe over in Cityside. Not only that, but he himself is not who he has assumed he is all these years either.
The Bridge was the winner of the 2010 Text Prize which is an award for an unpublished manuscript. The author is a Kiwi so it fits nicely into my almost forgotten Kiwi YA Challenge so I borrowed it from my local library. It was only published a couple of months ago but I hadn’t heard too much about it, other than the fact it had won the Text Prize. Billed as a dystopian (what isn’t, these days) it deals with a divided society, both physically and mentally and once you scratch the surface, there’s a lot more going on than just a couple of kids on a crusade to rescue yet another kid.
It deals with issues and the ending of the book raises some very important points about war and the fact that sides will put peace second behind revenge, justice and the chance to hold the advantage. Before negotiations for peace can even begin, one side always wants the other to abide by conditions and everyone always believes they are in the right. When they attack, it’s in retaliation for something, when they kill it’s revenge for an injustice caused to them. To leave these ideas behind and move forward in a way that would genuinely bring peace, gets lost. People don’t always want peace, they want to be right. They want to be the victors, the righteous, coming out on the side that is pure and good and beating back the evil influence and cowing them into submission into their way of life. It was a very good ‘talking point’ type of book, the sort of book that might be a good choice as a school text. Given the war (and it can be quite graphic) this book could hook teenage boys and girls alike in quickly and work in the more subtle themes before they even notice!
The world building started off well – although we could have been anywhere in the world, I got a feel for the new society and how it might have slowly disintegrated into what it had become by the time the book started. However as the story went on I found myself wanting to know more which was frustrating because Nik didn’t seem to know much and he had other things to worry about rather than how what was had become that way. There’s a sequel in the works (isn’t there always?!) which may help to answer some of the questions that I had upon finishing this novel. Nik finds out a lot about himself over the course of the book but in learning these things about himself, he also finds that it raises many, many more questions.
There is identity, racism, social structure, war, economics, all at play here in this novel. It’s by no means perfect – I think the conflict could’ve really been developed more and played a bigger role in the novel. I would have liked to see a little more character development by Nik – I think the most impressive character development wise in the novel is Fyffe and I hope she appears in the next novel, which I’ll definitely read whenever it is published. I’m very interested to see what is next for the world Higgins has created here.
Book #192 of 2011
As previously mentioned, The Bridge fits in nicely for my Kiwi YA Challenge, which has sort of been neglected by me in the past 6 or so months! It’s the 5th novel I’ve completed for the challenge, so I only have one more to go – Karen Healey’s The Shattering which is waiting for me to get to it.