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The Bridge – Jane Higgins

This is an excellent novel. It’s got everything a great YA story should have: strong characters, gripping plot, nail-biting tension, and a powerful message (in this case, the futility of war).

The Bridge is set in a dystopian future, where a divided city is at war with itself. The river and a series of bridges are all that separate Cityside and Southside.

Nik lives in Cityside, where ISIS is in control and keeps the hostiles from Southside at bay. Nik’s always understood his place in Cityside, but when ISIS recruits overlook him – despite the fact he’s one of the smartest kids his age – he starts to wonder why. But then his school his bombed, a friend’s brother, Sol, is kidnapped, and the hostiles take over the bridges. Nik is desperate to save Sol, and heads into enemy territory…

I love the way narrative character Nik’s view of the world is shaken – and ultimately widened – when he crosses into Southside.

Jane Higgins does an amazing job of depicting how a society might respond to ongoing civil conflict. In The Bridge, both sides have de-humanised the other; both are committed to revenge and retribution for the daily tragedies; and groups on both sides believe there can’t be peace without the total subjugation of the other.

But this isn’t just about the futility of war; it’s also a lesson in how peace can never come without justice. War can never truly be brought to an end when one side loses its capacity for empathy for the other.

While there’s certainly some moments of heartbreak in The Bridge, there are also moments of hope, and I was so moved by Nik’s personal journey that I was a tad teary by the final page.

Highly recommended.

(An aside: While the setting and the war in question is completely fictitious, I couldn’t help but feel a strong parallel with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, given the dynamic between the two sides… which would certainly make for an interesting study topic.)