The Twelfth Day of July


When venerable children's and young adult author Joan Lingard died earlier this year, I realised to my dismay that I had never read any of her work. A quick search on Brotherhood Books turned up The Twelfth Day of July, from 1970, the first in a series of five books about a young Belfast couple, one Catholic and one Protestant, who meet and (I guess, in later books?) fall in love across the sectarian divide.

In The Twelfth Day of July, Kevin and Sadie are young teens who become caught up in an escalating series of dares, raids into each other's territory, in the lead-up to the Protestants' big celebration and march on the 12th July. With their friends and siblings egging them on, they daub paint on enemy walls, break into each other's houses, hide out in enemy backyards, and confront each other in the streets to hurl insults, and finally, fists.

The structure of this slim book is deceptively simple, a fable of provocation and gradually escalating violence where the protagonists also slowly develop a growing respect and admiration for each other's guts and daring, ending in a satisfying truce where both sides boycott the 'Twelfth' for a day at the seaside, in neutral territory, just hanging out as young people together. 

I'd be interested to see how the story develops across the next four books. The Twelfth Day of July is an engaging introduction to the Belfast Troubles, with quite low stakes at this stage, though I'm sure as the series progresses things will become more serious. It's hard to believe this book is over 50 years old -- though the period detail has dated, the characters and action are as fresh and lively as anything written today.

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