The Bunker Diary won the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Other winners include The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Northern Lights and Tom’s Midnight Garden. This is an award for an outstanding children’s book.
The Bunker Diary is not a children’s book. In fact, I think it should come with a parental advisory warning. Yes, you can find it in the young adult section but I still find it a questionable read even for a more mature reader.
I had to read this novel for my current children’s literature course and I was looking forward to reading it. It is about a 16-year-old boy, Linus, who is kidnapped and trapped in an underground bunker. Eventually, five other people join him including a 9-year-old girl. However, I was not prepared for what I was about to read.
This book includes torture, starvation, drugs, rape, murder and death. I have read far worse books, but none of them were classed as children’s books or even young adult. I don’t have anything against children’s books being gritty, facing challenging situations and dealing with the harsh realities of life. But this book goes beyond that, it places the reader in a terrifying position, with no possibilities and no hope. Perhaps though, what makes it so popular, is the fact that it pushes the boundaries, that Brooks is writing something that is so uncommon in young adult books that it becomes unique.
The torture in the book is horrific, from being starved to being drugged. At one point in the novel, an aggressive Doberman is sent down into the bunker and immediately rips into one of the characters. By the end of the novel all you can wish for them, is death. For some of them it means murder, for others suicide. But more than anything it is a slow and devastating death for them all.
The book is extremely well written, Kevin Brooks has a certain mastery of language and the narrative, although disjointed, works and flows perfectly. If this was not a children’s book I would have given it 10/10. It is a gripping read, it asks so many questions of humanity and yet answers none. The novel is brilliant in so many ways and it stayed with me long after I finished it. I think that it is just the shock that my nephew or cousin could pick this up unknowingly as a children’s book and I wouldn’t want them to witness what I read. I do think however this speaks to a far wider problem which is the thin line between children and young adult books. I wonder why it is that films have strict certificates, that my 14 year old cousin would be turned away from a rated 15 film and yet she could walk into a book shop or library and pick up this book.