The Bad Times

Written by Christine Kinealy John Walsh
Review by Ann Pedtke

The Bad Times chronicles – in graphic novel form – the terrible history of the Great Hunger in Ireland and the resulting divisions in families and communities. Three young friends – Dan, Brigit, and Liam – face starvation and disease as their families’ potato crops fail and their English overlords turn a blind eye. Though they gradually lose many of the people they care about, they are determined not to lose each other – until at last they realize that they must face the crisis in their own daring ways.

This project, spearheaded by Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, is a worthwhile way to introduce young people to the history of the Great Irish Famine. Walsh’s palette reflects both the verdancy and gloom of the Emerald Isle, and his images have a bleak simplicity à la The Little Prince. While the plot draws good and bad in stark lines with very little character growth or versatility, historical and cultural authenticity do come through. Gaelic is sprinkled throughout (explained fully in a glossary), and the historical context is signposted clearly for young readers in a prologue and other supplemental materials.

Although this graphic novel is simplistic in many ways, Kinealy and Walsh resist the temptation of a deus ex machina. The ending leaves the protagonists – and the reader – with very little to hold on to. Perhaps this is a weakness of the plot. Or perhaps this is the intended message.