The Books that Built the Blogger: The Twelfth Day of July by Joan Lingard

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The book I have chosen for this week’s The Book That Built the Blogger is Joan Lingard’s 1970 book The Twelfth Day of July – another book that would probably be considered YA today but which opened my eyes to the possibilities of where books could go – and more imp

The Twelfth Day of July was first published in 1970 when I was 9 years old, however I think I was at least 13 when I read it.

Written by Joan Lingard, who spent her teenage years in Northern Ireland, The Twelfth Day of July is the first in a quintet of books, often known as the ‘Kevin and Sadie’ series. Acting as a kind of retelling of the Romeo & Juliet tale, the books follow the lives of Kevin, a Catholic and Sadie a Protestant as they grow up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, meeting as teenagers and following them until they become adults with children of their own.

Despite living in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, The Twelfth Day of July struck a chord with me for one main reason. It had never occurred to me that someone could write a book about where I came from. Up until that point, I believed that everyone I wanted to read about either went to boarding school in England or high school in America. The idea that the experience of living in Northern Ireland was valid material for a book – and not a history book! – was beyond me.

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Joan Lingard also manages a great balancing act with this novel. She does not take sides. The books two opening chapters focus on the same dinner time in two separate households. One Protestant and one Catholic and the first thing that strikes the reader is the similarities between the two rather than the differences. This probably seems like a sensible approach nowadays, but writing in the 1970s with the actual Troubles as the backdrop makes it all the more striking.

She also created a fantastic female protagonist in the character of Sadie – brash, ballsy and smart, she never sees herself as being anything but equal to any of the men in her life. As the book opens, Sadie and her brother Tommy are getting ready for the biggest day in the Protestant calendar – the 12th of July. A few streets down, Kevin and his mates are planning to deface a mural of ‘King Billy’ – William of Orange – however Sadie catches them in the act and starts a feud between the two which eventually goes horribly wrong, before bringing them closer together.

The Twelfth Day of July could also have gone horribly wrong, by becoming preachy or strident. However Lingard has a sure touch and the books are realistic in depicting both the difficulties of having a relationship with someone from ‘the other side’ and in how ordinary, everyday life carries on even in the middle of conflict. She tells a difficult story with humour and a light touch, but also doesn’t skirt away from the real issues that faced the population of Northern Ireland during those years.

I grew up with Kevin and Sadie, recognised the situation they were living in and relished a book that explored my home country with all its beauty and all its flaws. Although it might read like history now, it wasn’t history when it was written or when I was reading it

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Joan Lingard

 

The books in the ‘Kevin and Sadie’ Quintet, comprise of: The Twelfth Day of July (1970); Across the Barricades (1972); Into Exile (1973); A Proper Place (1975); and Hostages to Fortune (1976) – and they follow Kevin and Sadie as they fall in love, move to England and raise a family, all under the shadow of where they have been born and the religions they have been born into. The effect these books had on me was to make me realise that literature can spring from anywhere and that all experiences, even ones like my own are stories in their own right.

Did anyone else read these books? I wonder if they were just popular in Northern Ireland? It would be great to know if they were read anywhere else.

Join me tomorrow when the fantastic FictionFan will share the books that made her the blogger she is today!

 

 

Books That Built The Blogger The 746

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

16 Comments Leave a comment

  1. They were popular in Australia with this particular bookaholic! I loved the forbidden romance storyline & it also took me into a political world I knew little about at that point.

    I had a similar reaction to you when I first read a book set in my own country when I discovered H. Brimsmeads ‘Pastures of the Blue Crane’ about the same time I also discovered Sadie & Kevin. It was a revelation to think that a story in a book could be set in a place I knew intimately.

    Thanks for the lovely trip down memory lane 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read these too growing up in Scotland – I think I still have them in a box somewhere! They had a slightly different resonance for me of course but in Glasgow, reference and relevance to Ireland, Protestants and Catholics was pretty much an ever present. They had a similar sort of effect on my reading – till then I’d be either classics or archetypal kids books of that era ( Hardy Boys, Famous Five, Alfred Hitchcock Three Investigators). What I found in Kevin and Sadie was story of working class kids from backgrounds with a lot of similarities with my own. So the books really marked a shift in my reading- I remember them with great affection for it!

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  3. This sounds excellent Cathy. I read pretty much everything in my school library and local library at that age & I don’t remember these, so maybe they weren’t published as widely in England, I don’t know. It’s a shame if not, as reading this I’m sorry I missed out!

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  4. I haven’t heard of these, but I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t popular in Scotland or whether it’s because I’m a couple of years older, so maybe had moved on to adult books as we tended to do much younger back then. Intriguing though – as you know we have plenty of sectarianism over here in the west of Scotland too, though not to the same degree, of course, and I’m actually the product of a mixed marriage myself. In fact, my mother didn’t tell us she had been a Catholic when we were kids for fear it might mean we’d get bullied at our Protestant school. I was sixteen before I knew. Those days seem so long ago most of the time, but sometimes it feels as if we still haven’t properly moved on at all…

    Yay for tomorrow! 🙂

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  5. I have the first three of this series and loved them. Growing up in NI in the 70’s & 80’s I recognized the tension but emphasized with the spirit of Sadie and Kevin, the feeling that love and youth can conquer all. Especially in the anonymity of a large English city! I must try and find the last two – I would love to find out what happened to Sadie & Kevin. Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane.

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  6. I’ve never even heard of these, which surprises me because even though I grew up in Dublin, my father’s from Monaghan. Will have to dig them out of some second-hand bookshop and give them a read!

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  7. I absolutely adored these books and read them to death, and I also think of them every 12th of July, honestly. I must have read them when I was about 10, which came in 1982. Living in very homogenous Kent, I think they were part of my first real introduction to reading and learning about other people’s ordinary lives; something that has stayed with me as a theme in my reading ever since. So the opposite experience to yours!

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