Friday, March 25, 2016

The Bad Times: An Drochshaol - Christine Kinealy and John Walsh

Summary: The Bad Times: An Drochshaol is a story of pain and suffering, but also one of love and loyalty. Brigit, Daniel, and Liam are three teenagers from County Clare in the west of Ireland who live through the horrors of the Great Hunger in Ireland, also remembered by survivors as The Bad Times. The bonds of love and friendship between the teens are put to the test during Ireland's Great Hunger as they each make the tough decisions needed to survive. Their story is movingly told in this new graphic novel by historian Christine Kinealy and graphic novelist John Walsh.

The Bad Times is set during the Great Hunger, a disaster precipitated by the failure of the potato crop, but exacerbated by the inadequate policies of the British government and the cruelty and opportunism of some landowners and merchants. It takes place between 1846 and 1849. The Bad Times is based on the experiences of three young adults, Dan, Brigit and Liam, who are close friends, and their loyal dog, Cú. When the story commences, in late summer 1846, the potato crop is about to fail for a second time.  (Summary and image from  I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a review.)

My Review:  I liked the idea of approaching the Great Hunger in Ireland through a graphic novel.  This story was straightforward (though a little disjointed at times, most particularly during the festival of Lugh), and I loved how this tale focused on the youth (and their loyal dog).  Tragedies like this are difficult for everyone, but most particularly children, who often have no say in how things play out.

I enjoyed the three main characters and their tight-knit friendship, showing how they looked out for each other despite everything.  Their friendship made this story real, showing their sacrifices when they were losing everything.

(One of my favorite sequences in the book was where they all went to the beach, and Cu, their dog, raced about in the waves and made them laugh, because it had been so long since they'd had anything to be happy about.)

The ending is bittersweet, but if you know me, those are actually my favorite kinds, and I think it worked well for this tale.

Graphic novels can be all over the place art-wise, so I was fine with the simplistic drawings which allowed us to focus on the story of these people.  In my opinion, I would have preferred the art inside to follow the simpleness of the black and white cover with the green title, and felt it would have made for even stronger prose if the line work alone could have been used. The colored panels didn't really do much for me, and almost felt a little too garish and busy.

I love the Irish language--I think it is beautiful--and I loved the use of Irish words throughout the book.  I was glad there was a glossary in the back for the Irish words and phrases that were used, but I had to keep my finger there and keep flipping back whenever a new word popped up and I wanted context, which tugged me out of the story a little. It would have been nice whenever a new Irish word came into the story to have a footnote instead of just referring to the glossary.

Also on that note, I would have loved a pronunciation guide.  The Irish language is difficult to read, and often doesn't sound how it looks.  One or two of the words in the glossary had a pronunciation attached to them, but others didn't, and I would have loved to know how to say them all.

My rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: This story deals with death, starvation and sickness

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