Carnegie award for Kevin Brooks’ ‘The Bunker Diary’ sparks controversy

The controversial young adult novel "The Bunker Diary" by Kevin Brooks.

The Carnegie Medal is the British equivalent of the Newbery Medal in the U.S. It’s meant to recognize an outstanding new book for children or young adults. Unlike the Newbery jury, however, the Carnegie jury very often has an eye for darker works, especially in the young adult category.

It’s hard to imagine a novel that’s more bleak that this year’s winner of the Carnegie in the 14-and-over category, “The Bunker Diary,” by Kevin Brooks. The book tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who’s lured off the streets of London by an older man, who then imprisons the boy in an underground bunker with other captives. The kidnapper offers to free any boy who kills one of his fellow prisoners.

An opinion piece in the Telegraph called the novel a “vile and dangerous story” and asked, “Why wish this book on a child?”

“The reader’s experience over 250 pages is to watch six people sink into despair and to inflict damage on each other in the process,” Lorna Bradbury wrote. “And we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that, like the prisoners, we have spent time being manipulated by a psychopath and pervert.”


The chair of the Carnegie judge’s panel -- which is composed of librarians -- quickly came to the book’s defense.

“The Bunker Diary” was “absolutely the book Carnegie should be championing,” Helen Thompson told the Guardian. She called the book “superbly well-written, atmospheric, and loved by readers,” and added that it was “being devoured by young people across the country.”

Brooks said he waited 10 years to get “The Bunker Diary” into print after numerous publishers rejected it has lacking in hope.

“As readers, children -- and teens in particular -- don’t need to be cosseted with artificial hope that there will always be a happy ending,” Brooks said as he accepted the award."They want to be immersed in all aspects of life, not just the easy stuff.”

Hector tweets about books and other stuff at @TobarWriter