Friday, 4 September 2015

Theresa Breslin's Divided City: Mixing the Colours

It's over ten years since Theresa Breslin's Divided City came out, and I can't believe I haven't read it before now. I borrowed it recently from the Mixing the Colours collection (part of a project in which women speak about intra-Christian sectarianism) at Glasgow Women's Library. I meant to review it for their website, but stupidly didn't check if it had been done already. It had, so I'm posting my review here instead.

Theresa Breslin’s Divided City explodes onto the page. A boy is walking down a street in a part of Glasgow he knows isn’t safe. Footsteps sound behind him – and then there's a stabbing. The boy, Graham, a Rangers supporting football fanatic, stops to help the young man who has been injured - Kyoul, an asylum seeker - and the story takes off from here.

Next we meet Joe. He and Graham have just been at the same football practice and they played really well together. The coach is hoping to set up a team drawn from all Glasgow schools, and these two seem a certainty. But Joe is a Celtic supporter – can he and Graham be friends? It’s not just a matter of football teams, it’s religion too – Joe is from a Catholic family; Graham is a Protestant whose Grandfather is hoping to persuade him to take part in the next Orange Walk.

Breslin draws the relationship between the two boys well, with its contrast of conflict and co-operation. Neither boy can be honest with his family about his new friend, and yet it is Joe whom Graham trusts to help him get a message to Kyoul’s girlfriend. After the exciting beginning I found this part of the plot unconvincing, but I can see that Kyoul was there to show that the boys are not intolerant or fearful of “the other” – apart from the blind spot that growing up with sectarianism has given them. I like that this is not completely resolved by the end of the book – it wouldn’t be in real life – but that we are left with a sense of hope that initiatives such as the all-Glasgow football team will start to build bridges.

Theresa, a former librarian, is a great supporter of libraries and is currently Vice-President of CILIPS (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). For more about her, there are many interviews and articles out there: the most recent one I've read is from the always entertaining Bookwitch. For more on Divided City, see its section on Theresa's webpage.

Other books for young people on the Mixing the Colours list include Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses series, Joan Lingard's Kevin and Sadie books, the Breadwinner trilogy by Deborah Ellis and Tribes by Cathy MacPhail.

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