By Kevin Brooks
Available now from Carolrhoda Books (Lerner, USA) and Penguin (UK)
Carnegie Medal Award 2014
It's no secret that I prefer books with happy endings. But Kevin Brooks has written many books with unhappy endings that I've loved, most especially MARTYN PIG, which I first read way back as a teensy little sixth grader.
THE BUNKER DIARY makes the rest of his books look happy.
At the same time, I find it strangely optimistic.
Linus Weems is a sixteen-year-old runaway who has been on the street for almost half a year when he falls for the oldest trick in the book: helping a disabled man get something into the back of a van. He wakes up in a bunker with six rooms, six notebooks, six plates, and six cups. There's water, but no food. And there are cameras everywhere. Eventually, there are five other people too. They don't know why they've been taking or what their captor wants, but they have to try to get out.
What's interesting to me is that as bleak as THE BUNKER DIARY is, there's hints of worse things around the edges. Linus is the one writing the narrative, but he mostly dismisses the odd interplay he hears between one of the men and the woman who are trapped in the bunker is well. He focuses mostly on Jenny, the second captive who is a little girl, and Russell, the final captive who is dying without his medication.
It's also interesting that Brooks doesn't have things simply devolve to THE LORD OF THE FLIES level. Most of the captives don't like each other, but they aren't leaping at the opportunity to hurt each other either. Perhaps it is because they're being hurt enough by their captor, who sometimes turns off the heat or turns it way up or withholds food or blasts noise through the bunker. Seriously, this is a dark book about people struggling in a very unpleasant situation.
I'm not surprised that THE BUNKER DIARY winning the Carnegie was controversial. It has an ending that makes you question whether the book was worth it, whether it was worth reading something so unrelentingly bleak. I'm leaning toward yes, but I'm not sure I have the answer.