The story takes place in the 1980s in the midst of "the troubles" in ireland. 18-year-old Fergus McCan lives in N. Ireland with his parents and two younger sisters. His older brother Joey has been recently imprisoned for working with the provisional IRA. He is serving a ten-year sentence. Bobby Sands, a well-known provisional IRA member, has died in prison after a 66 day hunger strike whose goal was to persuade the British government to award the status of political prisoner(rather than criminal) to members of the IRA. Joey has just begun his own hunger strike. The family is torn by this action; his father is proud, his mother devastated, the two younger girls upset and confused. Fergus tries to talk Joey out of it but Joey is committed to the cause and is disappointed that Fergus doesn't support him.
At the same time Fergus and his family are dealing with this, Fergus stumbles upon a body preserved in the bog. He feels a connection to the young girl (who died with a noose around her neck approx 2000 years ago). A team of archaeologists are brought in to study her. Here the division between north and south again rears it's head. The border is unclear out in the bogs and both Northern Ireland and the Republic claim the girl.
Personal choices play a major role in the book and the reader is compelled to struggle along with Fergus as he tries to figure out where he stands, what he values, what he's willing to sacrifice, and what he's not. A truly moving coming of age story.