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.
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
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!