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“Bridge of Clay” Book Review

“Bridge of Clay” Book Review

By Christina Yoon

After writing his well-acclaimed novel, “The Book Thief,” Markus Zusak had high expectations from his fans for his next book. Ever since the publication of his newest novel, “Bridge of Clay,” various critics have debated whether it has truly met his high standards of writing.

Composed of an elaborate plot and characters, “Bridge of Clay” explores the complications of family, loss, and acceptance. The five Dunbar brothers create their own chaotic world in the midst of the death of their mother, Penny the Mistake Maker. They cope with their loss by finding their own personal method of organization and regulation in the chaos of pain and remorse. However, with the entrance of the father of the Dunbar boys, Michael Dunbar, their peace is shattered. Michael Dunar, who had left shortly after Penny’s death, returns to their small town and asks the Dunbar boys to help him build a bridge. However, as Michael is referred to as “the Murderer”, the Dunbar brothers have no desire to help their brother, except for Clay. As the protagonist of the story, Clay Dunbar helps his brothers recover what they had lost, regardless of if they realized they had lost it. As the narrator, Matthew explains in the prologue, “We were all of us [sic] changed through him.”

From the disciplined grandfather who is captivated by Greek myths, to Claudia Kirby and her frankness in dialogue, Zusak focuses on each individual character and their unique qualities. He builds the plot using the stories of these characters, and by focusing on  small details in the way they speak, portray their emotions, and in their physical features. As the story develops, the audience learns more about the enigma that is Clay Dunbar. Zusak develops the character of Clay through his obsession with running and his choice to drop out of high school and join his father in building the bridge.

The shifts in the timeline add to the complexity of this novel, as Zusak builds two worlds simultaneously: the past world of Penny Dunbar and the present world of the Dunbar brothers. Though confusing at first, this organizational technique leaves the audience in a constant state of curiosity. With this method, Zusak gives the audiences mere glimpses at the character and the complete plot, as opposed to dumping the entirety of the novel’s suspense in one chapter.

Though the plot is complicated and keeping track of the various characters and their stories can be difficult, Zusak still succeeds at keeping the audience interested and engaged. Using a more casual tone that intermixes some vulgar language, Zusak sets up a narration that draws the reader into the story. Through the lighthearted dialogue of the Dunbar brothers, Zusak provides mental breaks from the disheartening and occasionally overwhelming scenes of loss.


Personally, I had never read “The Book Thief”and thus, I can not take a side in whether “Bridge of Clay” is reflective of Zusak’s previously recognized writing. However, Zusak does take his audience on an emotional and literary roller coaster and I would recommend that you give it a try.

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