New Kids On The Block 2019 with Sarah Carlson

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2019? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at [email protected]. I would love to collaborate with you!

About Sarah Carlson

Sarah is a YA author focused on exploring contemporary issues facing youth today. Her debut novel, All the Walls of Belfast, will be released on March 12th, 2019 (Turner Publishing Company).

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

Sins of the Father: Exploring How Our Parents’ Choices Shape Our Lives

Danny and Fiona were born in the same hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but, more than a decade after the Troubles officially ended, a forty-foot peace wall still separates their families’ Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.

My debut novel All the Walls of Belfast, set in post-Troubles Belfast, Northern Ireland, centers around two teens grappling with the fallout of their parents’ pasts as they strive to define their own futures. But one ugly truth, not the peace wall between their neighborhoods, might tear them apart.

One of the core themes of All the Walls of Belfast revolves around the legacy of trauma being passed down to the next generation. I wanted to take a second to explore how the aftermath of their parents’ choices, and the armed conflict they engaged during the Troubles, have fundamentally shaped both Danny and Fiona’s lives.

The Troubles lasted from 1968 until 1998. Over 3600 people were killed and many more were injured. It began during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, after attempts at peaceful protest demanding equal rights for Catholics (“one man, one vote,” protection from job discrimination, access to equal resources such as quality housing) were met with violence on behalf of the British government and the mostly Protestant police force. At first, most of the violence on the Catholic side was in defense of their neighborhoods, which were under siege following the unrest. From there, the Provisional Irish Republican Army launched an armed campaign to force concessions around civil rights and to get a united Ireland. Protestant Loyalist paramilitaries took up arms out of fears of a united Ireland.

The Troubles was not about religious beliefs. It was about history and ethnic/cultural identity. In the early 1600s, the King of England used Protestant Scottish and English people loyal to the Crown to colonize what is now Northern Ireland (the Plantation of Ulster). He gave them lands belonging to local Irish Catholics resisting the Crown. Boiled down simply and speaking generally, Protestants see themselves as British and Loyalist or Unionist and wish for Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom. Catholics see themselves as Irish and Republican (no affiliation to American Republicans) or Nationalist and are more likely to want a united Ireland free of British rule. In Northern Ireland today, the main political parties are still Unionist (Protestant affiliated) or Republican (Catholic affiliated).

The legacy of the Troubles still lingers, particularly in working class neighborhoods like the Falls (Catholic/Republican/Nationalist) and the Shankill (Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist). Twenty years after the Troubles ended, the vast majority of Northern Ireland has moved on. But there are still dozens of peace walls dividing Catholic and Protestant areas. During my times in Northern Ireland, I asked people if the walls should come down. The answer from those living around them was pretty much always no. Because they were still afraid of them.

All the Walls of Belfast is set in 2012, so Danny and Fiona were small children when the Troubles officially ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Fiona didn’t even live in Belfast at this point. So neither of them can really even remember the Troubles. But their fathers were both heavily involved in the armed conflict. Danny’s father was in the Ulster Volunteer Force, a Protestant paramilitary. Fiona’s father was in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the Catholic paramilitary. Both of their families were torn apart by the violence, caused by their fathers and victims of coincidence. Neither Danny nor Fiona can remember the Troubles, but it has drastically shaped their lives.

Danny and Fiona were born in the same hospital in Belfast, but the choices of their parents led to very different lives.

Danny is well aware of his father’s involvement, and his father and community’s worldview has drastically shaped his own. Danny’s father is still involved in a Protestant paramilitary called the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and pressures Danny to follow in his footsteps, run guns, forcibly collect protection money from local businesses, and sell drugs under the guise of protecting his Protestant culture. Danny takes pride in his Protestant culture and proudly takes part in activities that can be considered sectarian, like marching in flute band parades and building bonfires to celebrate the Twelfth of July, which celebrates the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over deposed Catholic King James II in 1690. At the same time, he wants more from life. He wants to make his deceased mother proud by saving lives.

The working class neighborhood Danny has grown up in is religiously segregated. Danny’s never talked to anyone from the Falls. Or really a Catholic. As of 2015, only 7% of children in Northern Ireland attended religiously integrated schools. The vast majority of Catholic and Protestant children don’t even go to school together. Government agencies track school achievement data by religion like we track by race in the United States. He refers to Catholics as Taigs, which is a derogatory word, but has no idea why he even calls them that. It’s just what his dad does. In the book as Danny’s working to define who he’s going to be, he’s starting to re-write his worldview and ingrained prejudice. 

In Fiona’s case,  her parents choices lead to her family being severed in half. Her mother fled with her to Wisconsin when she was two, and her father and half-brothers remained in Belfast. There had been no contact for fifteen years until her father finally finds her. Fiona discovers her mom hid her from a father desperate to be in her life. After Fiona flies to Belfast to be reunited with the family she doesn’t remember, she walks into the aftermath oblivious both to the lingering impact on her father and half-brothers, and the forty-foot peace wall separating her father’s Catholic neighborhood, the Falls, from the Protestant neighborhood a few feet away, the Shankill, where Danny’s from. It was her father’s choices and political beliefs that lead to their family being torn apart in All the Walls of Belfast. Fiona also learns the truth of her father and mother’s pasts.

All the Walls of Belfast, in part, is about reconciliation and defining your own future apart from the legacies of your parents’ pasts. In Danny’s case, it’s fighting to free himself from the burden of the past and create a define his own identity free of his family’s sectarian paramilitary involvement. In Fiona’s case, it’s grappling with who her father is — a freedom fighter or a terrorist? — and if his past must define their future as a family.

Both Danny and Fiona’s lives and their identities were drastically shaped by the choices their families made before they were born. Both are left wondering what their lives would have been had they been born somewhere else, but both draw strength from either their families or their community.

Title All the Walls of Belfast
Author Sarah Carlson
Pages 272 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date March 12th 2019 by Turner
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book Depository

The Carnival At Bray meets West Side Story in Sarah Carlson’s powerful YA debut; set in post-conflict Belfast (Northern Ireland), alternating between two teenagers, both trying to understand their past and preserve their future. Seventeen-year-olds, Fiona and Danny must choose between their dreams and the people they aspire to be.

Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital. Fiona’s mom fled with her to the United States when she was two, but, fourteen years after the Troubles ended, a forty-foot-tall peace wall still separates her dad’s Catholic neighborhood from Danny’s Protestant neighborhood.

After chance brings Fiona and Danny together, their love of the band Fading Stars, big dreams, and desire to run away from their families unites them. Danny and Fiona must help one another overcome the burden of their parents’ pasts. But one ugly truth might shatter what they have…

One response to “New Kids On The Block 2019 with Sarah Carlson”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Whoa. I just added this to my TBR list. I know a *tiny* bit about The Troubles, but not a ton, and I don’t know all that much about the contemporary situation, so I’m really looking forward to reading this. Thanks for making us aware about this fascinating book!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge