Across the Divide is a story that explores what it means to live truly, to confront fear and difference and to learn how to stand as yourself but alongside others. It tells the story of a community divided in opinion. 14 year old Olivia finds herself in the middle of a row; a row that plays out at home and at school and involves her family and friends. While she can see all sides of the argument, she doesn’t want to be seen to be taking any. She just wants to keep a low profile.
After her mum gets arrested for leading a pacifist protest, Olivia gets shipped off to stay with her dad, a historian, on Lindisfarne Island, an island physically divided from the mainland each time the tide comes in. There she meets William, who reminds her of her friend Aidan – a friend that she worries she has recently let down. At the same time William is not quite like anyone she has met before.
During her stay on Lindisfarne, Olivia spends time reflecting on the divisions that have started to tear her world apart. In conversation with her Dad, William, and her developing relationship with the place of Lindisfarne past and present, Olivia begins to understand how the things that divide us can overshadow the things that hold us together. She also learns that keeping a low profile and remaining silent can also play a role in the division.
Across the Divide is a clever title. Divisions in the book are rife – physical and emotional divisions: divisions between people, places and time. Division, it seems, is part of human nature and, at one point, the narrative examines how some people or groups of people have a vested interest in stirring up divisions in society. But at the same time, connections arise too – across time and place. And the journey Olivia takes leads her to the realisation that while differences will always exist, it is the way that we respond that counts. Each of us has a moral responsibility to examine our attitudes, not just follow the crowd. Do we shy away from surfacing complexity and finding compromise so that we can have an easy life? Do we take a polarised stand on one side or the other? Or do we learn to recognise and respect difference and seek compromise and common causes, overcoming the challenges that inevitably arise in that process?
The plot is well-constructed and there are rich themes to explore. At times, I personally found the style, particularly the dialogue, a bit clunky and patronising, making things too explicit. I would have liked more to have been trusted to the reader. But overall, this was a book I really enjoyed. It would be best suited to readers 9+ as it doesn’t shy away from facing some complicated concepts, but approaches issues in an accessible and sensitive way. This book would provide an excellent basis for discussions, including around the themes of courage, cowardice, fear, morality and standing up for what you believe in without needing to create confrontation and opposition.
Overall, a thought-provoking and moving read.
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