The Bunker Diary
By Kevin Brooks
I am clearly in the minority. Bunker Diary won the 2014 Carnegie Award – Britain’s most prestigious children’s book prize. Reviews on Amazon – some written by readers as young as eleven -- are glowing. Librarians and teachers tell about placing the books in the hands of eager pupils and congratulate themselves on being so hip, so enlightened, so in tune with the angst of the teenage mind.
I am revolted. Nihilism does not even begin to describe the tone of this tale of a teenager locked in a basement cell by a psychotic stranger along with five other dysfunctional characters who are then given the option of killing each other in order to win their freedom. It includes scenes of torture, of a dog strangled to death, drug addiction, of an old man committing suicide by cutting his wrists with the sharp edge of his glass eye – it sounds comical when you read it like this – but it is not. It is vile. For 270 pages we witness the stinking physical deterioration and mental collapse of the hostages before the view point character too, dies, with no hope, no insight gained on the journey, no reason.
If this was a book written for an adult audience I would have called it a mildly interesting, if pointless plot and with the characters crudely drawn except for the viewpoint character who does manage to engage some empathy in the reader. As a novel written for YA readers, I am appalled. I do not have children myself but I have an 11 year old nephew and I would be desperate for him not to read this self-indulgent, gratuitous shock schlock. I “get” that 21st century teenagers in the developed world have to deal with a lot and don’t live in Mayberry. But for goodness’ sakes – I grew up on a continent where children often have no shoes, let alone cell phones and computers, where basic amenities are scarce and where they have to envisage a future for themselves on a continent where there is constant war and disease. And despite all of this, they still manage to look for joy and hope.