Across the Divide

Written by Brian Gallagher
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Minna McNulty

Dublin, 1913. Liam and Nora come from the opposite sides of the social divide. Liam’s father is a mechanic and firmly on the side of the newly-emerging trade union movement. Nora’s father is a prosperous wine importer. When Liam helps Nora out at a music competition, they embark on an unlikely friendship.

Nora has had a sheltered upbringing but, unbeknownst to her mother, her eyes are already opened by her inspiring teacher, Miss Dillon, who believes that girls should be allowed to fulfil their potential, just as boys are. In the world outside, suffragettes are agitating for the vote, and Nora is encouraged to make up her own mind about what women should and shouldn’t do. When, through meeting Liam, Nora discovers the appalling living conditions of Dublin’s poor, she is shocked and agrees with her new friend that this isn’t social justice and that workers should earn a living wage.

When the charismatic trade union leader, Jim Larkin, takes on the might of the employers and organizes an all-out strike, the docks are closed – and Nora’s father’s business is affected. Nora has some hard decisions to make. Can her friendship with Liam survive?

I enjoyed this book. Brian Gallagher is too subtle a writer to go for the easy black and white option. Nora’s father is a fair employer who has some sympathy with the men; her mother is more hidebound and reactionary in her opinions and is determined that Nora shall be brought up as a lady should be – no agitating for the vote from her! Liam meets with petty-minded and unpleasant working men as well as kind and helpful ones. Both children’s courage is tested to the utmost and their lives are changed forever.

A fascinating look at an important episode in Ireland’s history. Recommended for 9 plus.

Across the Divide is a take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet situation for two children who are friends trying to stay together even though they should be enemies.  Nora’s family is really rich, and Liam’s is on strike because of bad pay and working conditions. I liked the way the narrative swaps from Nora to Liam, to hear both sides of the situation. I also think it was very good when Nora was wavering about her father’s position in the battle with the unions. It’s a very well-written book, but you didn’t learn much about the characters, for example, what they looked like, what they enjoyed, and really how they lived their lives. It’s fast-moving and always kept you intrigued. I liked the prologue because it made you anticipate what was going to happen. I think it would suit 9-11 year old readers, they would like it an enjoyable rather than challenging read.