Family divide

DARK SHADOWS. By Joan Lingard. Hamish Hamilton Pounds 10.99.

When you move into the sun, shadows shorten," says Jess at the end of this intelligent and moving new novel, set in Belfast. The author is well-known for her Kevin and Sadie books, which also deal with the pressures teenagers feel, living in a divided community.

In this book, Jess, a Catholic, meets her Protestant cousin Laurie for the first time. The two branches of the family haven't spoken since Jess's father married a Catholic, Maeve O'Shea. A shared interest in music brings the girls together, and with Neal, Jess's cousin, they decide to enter a song-writing competition.

This is the simple framework Joan Lingard uses to tell a more complicated story which involves lies, bombing, kneecapping, joy-riding, bullying, playing truant and many combinations of discord, love and friendship.

The end is full of hope, with the families going together to listen to their children's music, but it comes after a near-tragedy.

Lingard grew up in Belfast and you can hear the accent in the dialogue. You also learn words like "mitching" for playing truant. For someone with such an economical, plain style, however, the author is somewhat over-generous with her exclamation marks, but this is nit-picking.

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