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All the Walls of Belfast

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Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital. Fiona’s mom fled with her to the United States when she was two, but, fourteen years after the Troubles ended, a forty-foot-tall peace wall still separates her dad’s Catholic neighborhood from Danny’s Protestant neighborhood.

After chance brings Fiona and Danny together, their love of the band Fading Stars, big dreams, and desire to run away from their families unites them. Danny and Fiona must help one another overcome the burden of their parents’ pasts. But one ugly truth might shatter what they have…

240 pages, Paperback

First published March 12, 2019

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About the author

Sarah Carlson

2 books66 followers
Sarah J. Carlson writes contemporary YA that delves into complex, real world problems. Professionally, she is a school psychologist.

Sarah currently lives in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia with her husband and two children. Prior to that, she spent most of her life in Wisconsin, apart from a few years in Singapore.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,534 reviews32.5k followers
November 19, 2020
wow. okay. when i picked this up, not for one second did i think this would be a story that would make me emotional. yet here we are.

maybe its because ireland has such a special place in my heart, with belfast occupying a large portion of that space, but i felt like i lived and breathed every word of this story.

this is a character driven novel, but set in the middle of a city that is recovering from hurt and hoping for peace. the long history of northern ireland is not commonly talked about, so i love the raw and honest way SC brings to light the state of the country and its citizens.

the relationship between danny and fiona is very romeo and juliet-esque, but its not overdone. its a very sweet story and i was rooting for them every page.

this is an excellent story for those looking for a YA contemporary book full of a first young love, coming of age growth, complex national history, and a wonderful message.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Erica.
Author 7 books134 followers
June 5, 2019
This book was amazing and reminded me a little of Romeo and Juliet in the sense that they are technically forbidden to be together. Fiona's family is Catholic and Danny's family is Protestant. Their parents' pasts hold an ugly truth that could shatter what love Fiona and Danny have for each other. Learning about both their parents' pasts was interesting, but that shouldn't change the way they feel for each other. It's not their fault for what their parents did. I definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for em.
367 reviews
December 4, 2018
Belfast is a city that will always own a big chunk of my heart. It was the city where I started flying free. My first proper job, my first apartment, my first experience abroad. Belfast helped shaping me in the adult woman I am today.

So I will jump at the chance of reading a book that is set there. Specially, it that is a young adult book. And that is exactly what I did.

I think this book comes with excellent timing, now that half of the world is seemingly walking backwards while the other half tries to move on to a better place. A kinder one. A peaceful one. During my time in Belfast I didn’t only learn about myself. I absorbed as much culture and history as I could. I soon realized that there is so much about Northern Ireland that the rest of Europe - and the world - ignores. Despite its past, Belfast is one of the most kind and welcoming cities I have ever been to. The Troubles was a conflict that went on for 30 years guys, more than 3000 people were killed and more than 50% were civilians. The Good Friday Peace Agreement was only signed in 1998. That’s literally yesterday, guys.

Belfast is a city that is still healing. Their people is moving past it, trying to leave behind the scraps of what the conflict shattered and blew up.

All The Walls of Belfast is not just a contemporary young adult book. It’s one set in a Belfast that still wears wounds from the conflict. A Belfast excellently portrayed by the author. The stories of the characters are blended with the social implications of their origins, of the families where they were brought up, the side of the wall where they grew up and the repercussions of the actions of their families.

The story is heavily character driven and the families of both main characters play a very important role. Even though Fiona and Danny’s origins belong to different sides of the wall, both had dreams, fears and a life ahead of them. Their connection soon unfolds into that gritty and brave love characteristic of a first love. A forbidden one. And in this case, one that put both their lives at risk.

Danny’s story was particularly turbulent and troubled. Gosh, at some point even devastating. How I wished to protect his wee soul and extract him from that awful background he was in. I have to say I was really caught off guard by the last 10% of the book, but even if it was more of a bittersweet ending, it was sweeter than anything else.

Going back to my initial thought, this book comes with excellent timing. Now more than ever, we need stories that translate to a message of peace and unification. What’s really important about this book is that no matter the differences between Fiona and Danny’s families, no matter the blood spilled in the past and the hurt caused by their past actions; we need a way to see past that and move forward.

Religion, political inclinations, background… does that really make us different? Is that reason enough to infringe pain? To go against each other?

*I received an eARC via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Madalyn (Novel Ink).
495 reviews824 followers
March 17, 2019
This review originally appeared on Novel Ink.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

*Content warnings: violence; child abuse; extensive talk of the Troubles and the violence and death that came along with them*

I fell in love with Belfast upon first visiting the capital of Northern Ireland in 2016– so much so, in fact, that I’ve been back twice since. So when I saw that a YA book set in Belfast, featuring a forbidden romance between characters from families on opposite sides of the Northern Irish conflict, I was overjoyed! However, while All the Walls of Belfast has an excellent premise, in my mind, the execution left much to be desired.

All the Walls of Belfast is told through dual perspectives. We follow Fiona, a Northern Irish teenager raised in the US who travels to Belfast for the first time to meet and stay with her long-estranged father in the Catholic neighborhood of the Falls; and Danny, a Protestant from the Shankill neighborhood who’s trying desperately to escape Belfast and his abusive father. Fiona quickly learns some difficult truths about her father’s once-involvement with the IRA, a paramilitary group responsible for many of the terrorist attacks during the Troubles, while Danny continues to reckon with the expectations placed upon him by his UVF (another paramilitary group, this one on the Protestant side)-affiliated family and community.

Let’s start with the (few) good things I have to say about this story. First off, the setting is vivid and very true to what I remember. Belfast, both in its current state and in all of its ugly history, comes to life on these pages. Both of these main characters come from working-class families, albeit on opposite sides of the peace wall, and I found it interesting to see a side of Belfast that I hadn’t seen as a tourist. There are mentions of, and visits to, many of Northern Ireland’s noteworthy sites (City Hall, the Botanic Gardens, Giant’s Causeway) throughout the story. I personally can’t speak to whether the Northern Irish speech (or the Gaellic, for that matter) was done well, since I’m not from there and have only visited as a tourist.

I also think All the Walls of Belfast reckons with some interesting themes. Since our protagonists belong to the generation immediately following the Troubles (which, on paper, ended in the late 1990’s with the Good Friday Agreement), they make for an interesting demographic to follow. The violence between loyalists and republicans has largely subsided, but years and years of tension and history between the two groups didn’t just go away overnight, and the main characters both have to grapple with the lasting legacies of their families’ involvement in the conflict as well as the still-strongly-held convictions from both sides. I never learned about the Troubles in school, and really all I knew about them came from the (admittedly, very comprehensive) black cab tour my dad and I took while in Belfast the first time, so I don’t think I realized the scope of the conflict. With it being such a recent part of Ulster’s history, it makes perfect sense that people living in Belfast still have to grapple with the aftermath of the Troubles every day. This story definitely showed the ways in which prejudice can be passed along from generation to generation like poison, further perpetuating the cycle of violence and hateful rhetoric.

While it explored some interesting themes, what really turned me off of All the Walls of Belfast was the romance. I just could not get behind it. It was trying SO HARD to be an angsty, forbidden romance– and I was like, okay, I get the “forbidden” part, but where, oh where, is the “romance?” Danny and Fiona had all the chemistry of two pieces of wet cardboard. This is a classic example of instalove done poorly. We get next to no scenes of these two characters interacting at all, and the ones we do get are very surface-level, which makes it difficult, as a reader, to root for them! Also, I get that Danny had a lot going on– and no one, no one, deserves to suffer physical or emotional abuse from an authority figure– but he was lowkey kind of an asshole almost all the time? To everyone? I did not get what Fiona saw in them. Fiona as an MC was fine, I guess, but not a character who I’ll remember a week from now. I thought the romance had potential to explore some of the book’s themes on a deeper level, but unfortunately, it was not carried out in a way that actually made me empathize with the characters.

On top of that, the ending felt rushed; almost all the action happened in the last 15% of the e-ARC. It was one thing after another, after pages and pages of build, and then everything was resolved a bit too hastily (and, imo, in a bit of a bizarre way).

Overall, All the Walls of Belfast has a compelling setting and an interesting premise, but it ultimately fell quite flat for me.
Profile Image for Christina.
Author 5 books397 followers
September 3, 2018
Official blurb: ALL THE WALLS OF BELFAST is a powerful story about how the stones our parents throw in the past make ripples in our futures. Fiona and Danny's distinct voices weave a colorful tapestry of modern-day Belfast that will stick with readers for a long, long time.

Further thoughts: WOW. This is a ride. I'll admit to knowing very little about "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland prior to reading, so I appreciate how much research Carlson must have done to create an accurate portrait of both Catholic and Protestant families. The characters are well-rounded and flawed, but also sympathetic--my favorite kind. It struck me as I was reading that even though most readers won't ever have an experience like Fiona or Danny, it mirrors the way other political situations have played out around the world, especially in the US right now. This is a timely read--make sure you check it out!
Profile Image for Alex Black.
641 reviews46 followers
April 4, 2019
This was so good! I adored this book. Fiona and Danny were both such well developed characters and I loved the family dynamic each of them was dealing with. I also really enjoyed the cultural element to this book. It's not own voices (the author is American) and I am American, so I can't speak for accuracy, but purely from a writing standpoint, she captured the culture so well. I adored reading it.

My main issue was just that it was a little short and felt a little to fast paced. The relationship happened very quickly and as invested as I was in both of their character's individually, I didn't care so much for the relationship. Danny also struggled with a lot of contradictory feelings and it seemed like he came to terms with things very quickly. I just wish there'd been more time to give to some of these deeper issues.

But overall, it was so wonderful and I would highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Angie.
645 reviews996 followers
March 15, 2019
Originally reviewed here @ Angieville

I have had a string of lovely successes with contemporaries lately. I wonder, sometimes, about the phases we go through, both in reading and in life in general and whether or not (or where) they align. I'm not always able to see the patterns amid the daily vicissitudes, but I wonder about them often. Several months ago, I saw the cover for Sarah J. Carlson's debut novel All the Walls of Belfast and thought I might have died and gone direct to heaven. The title alone is my favorite of the year, hands down. I don't even care if those are fighting words. It is the best title of the year, so there. And, happily, it has a cover to match that beauty, all orange and green and hints of the walls that make up its title. I could only hope that the content matched. Somehow I knew it had to.

Fiona grew up in America. From the time she was two years old and her mother took her and fled Northern Ireland for the unknown wilds of Wisconsin, she has believed that her father was dead. And now, on the cusp of graduating from high school and applying to colleges, Fiona discovers that her mother lied to her all those years and that her father and stepbrothers are, in fact, alive and well. More than that, her father very much wants to meet her. Which is how she finds herself alone on a plane to Belfast to meet an entire family and history of which she knows nothing. Danny has lived in Belfast his entire life and is quietly (and desperately) counting down the days until he can leave. Growing up in the Shankill, Danny has an abusive and alcoholic father, indifferent brothers, and a mother who died in a bombing when he was a boy. He's spent his life trying to lay low and do well in school so that he can join the British army as a nurse, escape the violence of his childhood, and do some good in a hopefully distant part of the world. What neither of them realize is that one chance meeting will alter the course of both of their lives. If they manage to survive the repercussions.
Inside, signs in English and Irish directed people with European Union passports to the left, non-European Union passports to the right. The Americans from our flight stood stranded in a long line, but I walked right up to an immigration officer. I peeled my clammy fingers from my Irish passport as I handed it to the officer.

The immigration officer flipped through the empty pages, then raised an eyebrow at me.

"Um, I'm visiting my dad," I said.

His brow inched higher. My cheeks warmed.

"Welcome home, then," the officer said.

All the Walls of Belfast is being billed as part West Side Story, and the similarities are undeniably present. But it is also very much its own creature in all the best ways. This novel is both incredibly sober and achingly romantic, though neither tone overwhelms the piece as a whole. This balance Ms. Paulson achieves struck me as so skillfully wrought, as it meant that both Fiona and Danny felt their ages. They reflected their wildly different upbringings. We got to spend sufficient time with them each on their own, with their families, and together just the two of them. There were no sweeping escapes, no time away from time, no unrealistic moments for the sake of manufactured drama or faux romanticism. As I said, it is a tale with gravity to it, set as it is on separate sides of a peace wall, in both the Falls and the Shankill areas of Belfast, in the wake of The Troubles. And it highlighted for me, a clear outsider, how alive and present and breathing the legacy of that decades-long conflict truly is. It initially put me in mind of the lovely Eva Underground, as both books treat lingeringly problematic periods in European history in such thoughtful and resonant ways.
My Physics Club T-shirt was mostly dry. He draped the dripping hoodie over the radiator. I sat on his neatly made bed. Each mattress spring poked me. A British flag hung right next to me. At the foot of the bed was a shredded poster; one piece had a soldier with a medic armband.

"Will you take tea?" Danny asked.

"I don't drink tea." I just wanted some tape to fix his dream.

"Right, yous threw it all in the Boston Harbor."

This rare lighter moment is shadowed over by the ever-present barriers between them―Danny's fiercely loyalist upbringing and father and the extremely complicated history surrounding Fiona's republican father and stepbrothers. There is nothing glossy about this tale. Rather, its extreme beauty is tucked away in every loving, yet unflinching detail, in the meticulous depictions of this war-torn city and its wounded people. It is such a deeply personal story, its empathy comprehensive. It quite took my breath away.
Dad stopped a yard from me. His weary hazel eyes, spotted with green, looked me over.

As much as I tried to picture Dad's sordid past―fingers nestled in blue-and-red wires making bombs; wearing the ski mask, sunglasses, and the beret with the Easter lily; shooting at British soldiers―I couldn't. Right after I was born, he'd held my whole body in his hand.

All the Walls of Belfast is an instant entry on my Best Books of 2019 list. Please go find a copy today.
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,434 reviews234 followers
March 4, 2019
All the Walls of Belfast was one of the freshest and more interesting take on Romeo & Juliet, that I have read in quite a while.


• Fiona: Born in Belfast, but raised in the US, she was largely unaware of the Troubles and the shadow they cast over Northern Ireland.

• Danny: A Belfast resident, who fought to better himself as as to escape the destructive parts of his culture.


Danny and Fiona accidentally meet and strike up a friendship, but when they learn, they reside on opposite sides of the Peace Wall, they are not sure if they can move beyond the crimes of their parents and forge a future together without alienating their loved ones.


This was quite a story, and it packed such an emotional punch. Between the look into the troubled past of Northern Ireland, the leftover animosity from The Troubles, and the constant violence Danny had to contend with, I sometimes found myself a little wrung out. But, I really appreciated all the historical bits Carlson fed me, as well, as the different points of view concerning the initial conflict, which pitted Loyalists against Republicans. I knew something about the conflict from my teens and early 20s, but I definitely learned a LOT more about it from reading this book.

As far as characters go, Fiona was much easier to like. I empathized with her situation -- traveling to a foreign country to reunite with the family she separated from over 15 years ago. Some of my favorite moments were between Fiona, her father, her step brothers, and her nephew. It was awkward and sometimes uncomfortable, but it was lovely seeing them warm up to each other, and remember how they used to be a family.

At first glance, Danny came off as arrogant and not very nice, but as the story plays out, I saw that he was hardened from his circumstances, and I was able to forgive some of his transgressions. I was very impressed by the hoops he had to jump through to try and achieve his dream. His father was constantly trying to keep him from achieving, but Danny's hard head and a few supporters in his corner, helped his keep his eyes on the prize and pushing forward. I really appreciated his strength in this situation. I also found his struggle with his culture quite interesting. He often displayed feelings of pride towards his history, but it was at odds with the violence embedded therein, which he tried to avoid at all costs.

This book is definitely being added to my list of books that took me places, because Carlson did an amazing job incorporating the city of Belfast into the story. I felt the vibe and could almost see the sites, which were made even more vivid via Carlson's Instagram.

Lots of drama, lots of feels, but the best, for me, was the ending. Happy and sad things happened, but Carlson made it really hopeful.

Overall: A Romeo & Juliet-esque story with a MUCH better ending. Seriously, there were some happy tears.

*ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Lindsey Lynn (thepagemistress).
373 reviews93 followers
January 4, 2019
TW: domestic violence, alcoholism, neglect, depression
*Was provided a copy for free to review and advertise on my instagram account @thepagemistress
All thoughts are my own*

This book follows Fiona and Danny, which I must say I love duel perspective books. Fiona is just reuniting with her long lost father in Belfast, Ireland and Danny is a local. Fiona's father has a very troubled past with lots of things she never knew about. She has to decide if she trusts her father or if she's the monster she has always believed him to be.

Danny has a troubled past with a father who is a drunk among other things. His father seems to already have his life planned out for him when all Danny wants to do is help people.

Danny and Fiona meet among some unique circumstances and have to decide is the wall diving them worth breaking down? This book has rich history about Northern Ireland/Ireland's history, things that I was not educated about before so I missed some of the references. I later looked up the history. This has many tough subjects that are broached so I advise you to approach with caution. TW: domestic violence, alcoholism, neglect, depression

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The only reason I reduced my rating is because of my connection to the characters. I just didn't feel that pull and some of the parts needed to be fleshed out a tiny bit. This was a great way to start my reading year though. Learned so much about the history of Ireland and loved the family connections that we witness throughout the book. I recommend this for anyone who is in need of an adventure with some rich history.

Thank you for sending me a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Marilyn.
458 reviews23 followers
September 26, 2021
This was a beautiful story about two young lives, one female American, and one male from war torn Belfast. This conflict was so well depicted and highlighted through the two different families from the two different sides of history, Catholic and Protestant. It also shone a light on the role of the UK government in all of this. This was not a subject I knew much about, and this filled that emptiness of ignorance. Until the end was I wondering and routing for Danny and Fiona’s story.
Profile Image for Abi Pellinor.
469 reviews54 followers
February 22, 2019
Coming out on the 12th March, 2019!!

I was very kindly given this book by the author Sarah as an ARC, and she didn't ask me to review it but I've decided that I want to anyways. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about the premise of this book going in. The synopsis made me think it'd be a bit romance heavy for my tastes and I was nervous about that. Turns out that I didn't need to be as I adored this book! 

We follow two main characters within the book (so the book has two perspectives). Our first MC is Fiona, a Northern-Irish born girl whose mother fled to the US when she was just 2 years old, leaving her father and step-brothers behind. We find her just as she is flying to Belfast to visit the country for the first time since she was 2, and she is going to meet her father for the first time. Our second MC is Danny, he's a bright lad who's doing well in school and wants to join the British Army to be a nurse and save lives. However, his father has other ideas and wants him to join the paramilitary group he leads, fighting the Catholics who live on the other side of the over 12-metre high peace wall. The two have a chance meeting and seem to have a lot in common, but also don't know as much about the other as they believe, as Fiona's dad is a Catholic. Can they make this relationship work, or will the troubles come between them?

I am slowly discovering as I read more as an adult that I do enjoy romance within a story as long as there is an actual plot that isn't involved with the romance and also if the main characters are developed well. This book has both of those points, with a deeply researched and interesting look at the troubles in Northern Ireland and also intriguing and nuanced MC's who I genuinely cared about. Once you reach the end of this book you'll be rooting for Fiona and Danny in their life goals as well as in their romantic lives, as well as feeling like you now have a basic grasp of what is still going on in Northern Ireland. 

Obviously, when it comes to the section about Northern Ireland there is a limit to what Sarah can include. The troubles that have been present in this region span decades and have many ins and outs that can be difficult to grasp if you've not lived through it, but I personally feel that she's managed to cover this topic really well. We get to experience it from both sides and see the reasoning behind it all, as well as learning a bit about the history of it through the MCs. Don't expect to come away from this book a history buff in this area, however, you will come away knowing much more than you did before (if you don't have more than a cursory knowledge of the situation that is).

Overall, I really recommend this book. A well-described environment with many nods to past and present events, along with characters that are developed well and will have you rooting for them in less than 100 pages. I definitely recommend picking this one up and I'm so glad that I've read it! 5/5*s from me!

From my blog: autumnofpellinor.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Mark Grotjohn .
18 reviews
March 18, 2019
This isn't just a love story. It's a unique drama, fraught in complex history and layered in self-discovery. It was intriguing to watch the love between Fiona and Danny unfold, but what really kept me enthralled was the growth of the individual characters: Fiona's rediscovery and exploration of her relationships with her parents, and Danny's struggle, his culture at odds with his dreams.
This book helped me understand the gravity and complexity of The Troubles and the history and culture at play without bludgeoning me over the head with a history lesson. Instead, it gave me the context to make the underlying story between Fiona and Danny that much more interesting. (And, it made me want to learn more about The Troubles afterwards.)
The last 40 pages kept me on the edge of my seat. Really enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Sophia Grace.
39 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2023

I wasn't expecting much to be honest, but this was just so good.

There is some bad language, and A LOT of Irish slang, so be mindful:)

Either way, it was AMAZING!!

Honestly, it might be one of my favorite books now, ngl:)))
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,404 reviews34 followers
January 2, 2020
American teen Fiona travels to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to reunite with her father whom she has not seen since she was a toddler. Having no memories of her older half brothers or her birthplace, Fiona tentatively gets to know her family and explores her culture and community. She discovers her Catholic father was formally a key member of the IRA and his bombs killed many people during the Troubles, a time when ethno-nationalism led to violence between Catholics and Protestants. Fiona meets Danny, a Protestant who is studying for his school finals and wishes to join the British Army as a nurse against his gangster father's wishes. The two begin to see one another, but their parents' pasts threaten their relationship. Alternating chapters between Fiona and Danny establish their family dynamics and allow readers to root for them as their believable romance blossoms. Author Sarah Carlson creates an atmospheric narrative, explaining just enough of the current political and cultural landscape to understand how the walls running through Belfast still affect both communities on either side of it. The story doesn't shy away from showing gritty reality and dysfunctional families that are partly due to the conflicts that ended only recently.

Verdict: This contemporary drama has an appealing romance and the nuanced story may push teens to think critically about religious and cultural differences; and ultimately about forgiveness. A solid choice for all teen collections.

I reviewed this book for the School Library Journal magazine
Profile Image for Katie.
184 reviews
May 7, 2019
I liked this book so. much. It has been a long time since I have felt this invested in characters from so early on in the story; what is it about both Fiona and Danny that made me like them so much? I still haven't figured it out, but I think it made all the difference. Perhaps it is because characters on both sides were so well represented, for their strengths and their flaws; it showed how no one side is ever fully right or fully wrong, they're both just human.

Because I cared about the characters so strongly, I was compelled to find out what would happen to each of them individually and to them together, as well as to their families. I was reading late into the night on this one.

Ultimately, I also learned a lot. I knew very little about the Northern Ireland Troubles, and now I want to know even more. (Plus, I so enjoyed the Irish vernacular.)

The parallels between the parents' lives and their kids lives had me worried for the kids at many points, but I felt so hopeful at the end; it seems there can be redemption, even across generations. I hope this message will inspire young readers today.

Now, when do I get to go to Belfast...?
Profile Image for Terra Laurel.
158 reviews4 followers
June 7, 2019
3.5 stars. Such mixed feelings about this one! I spent 11 days in Belfast in 2017 studying the role of libraries during The Troubles, so I was very excited to read a YA novel set in Belfast. It was extremely satisfying to read the author's description of the city because it so closely matched my experience of it. However, I started to realize that my experience of Belfast was definitely as an outsider, a tourist. It became clear that the author is also an outsider and I wonder how the book might have been different if it was written by someone who grew up in Northern Ireland. Also, I had a hard time with the love story aspect. I did not find Danny to be a very compelling character (he was kind of a shit throughout) and there wasn't enough of a build up in the relationship between Danny and Fiona to make it believable or worth fighting for. That being said, I really do like the concept of the book and the exploration of what it means for the generations that come up after the "resolution" of something as traumatic as thirty years of violent political struggle. Ugh, I wanted to love this and I almost did!
Profile Image for Jodi Herlick.
Author 2 books3 followers
October 13, 2018
Fiona and Danny’s story is a heart-wrenching take on star-crossed lovers. I fell in love with the broken but relatable characters almost immediately. The narration moves smoothly back and forth between the two main characters, and it was easy to understand both their hurt and their heart. The story was fast-paced, compelling, and unputdownable. The backdrop of the aftermath of the Ireland conflict was fascinating. I learned a lot about the history, but I also loved how Fiona and Danny’s story translates into greater themes regarding cycles of violence and the power of empathy and forgiveness. This is a story that transcends the scope of the plot and characters and speaks deeply to the needs of our broken world. I can’t recommend it enough!
Profile Image for Caitlin.
64 reviews
April 13, 2019
I loved this story! It made me reminiscent of my own youthful navigations in love. I loved the new man her dad is trying to be, and I could feel the tension as she suddenly dropped back into her brothers lives. The story between Fiona and Danny is so sweet, focused on commonalities and making each other happy as they struggle with their own darkness and in spite of the figurative and literal barriers that make their meeting so unlikely. I read most of this book in a day because I couldn’t put it down!

I wish I knew why Catherine was only able to leave Northern Ireland with Fiona, but the mystery also emphasized the crisis during the Troubles and the lingering tensions. An added bonus was all the references to Madison, WI, the place I’ve called home since 2003! Loved this book 🥰
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books335 followers
July 1, 2019
This is a very well written but ultimately sad story, about attitudes in Northern Ireland not changing fast enough. We think life is so much better there now, and that is indeed the case, but at times the situation is poised and people can be thrown back into danger even if they are of the new generation.
We see a young lady from an Irish-American family meeting a young man from an abusive Protestant family when she's a tourist in Belfast and he is trying to head out of Belfast. Family issues overwhelm each of them but I was surprised that the lad does so little standing up for himself.

Be prepared for strong violence, strong language, references to drugs, and many questions that will be hard to answer.
I downloaded an e-ARC from Fresh Fiction. This is an unbiased review.
3 reviews
May 15, 2019
I really enjoyed reading about the culture of Belfast.
A good diversity of characters.
Profile Image for Stacey.
115 reviews
August 3, 2022
Had an almost Romeo and Juliet feeling, but so unique to the country and time period of post Troubles Northern Ireland. Felt very authentic and for those interested, has quite a bit of swearing (would it be Irish if it didn't?) and some sexual references, but nothing too spicy. I did love seeing more from the Ulster point of view, I feel that most Irish books focus on the Republican side of things, especially for American readers, and I really liked learning more from the other side of the wall.
Profile Image for MsArdychan.
529 reviews20 followers
March 4, 2019
Please Note: I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

***Trigger Warning for domestic violence***

Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Northern Ireland. I was so impressed, not only with the historic sights and staggering natural beauty, but with the people. Everyone was so friendly and hopeful for the future. The "Troubles" seemed to be a long-ago conflict.

But, even during our visit (which occurred during the July12th Loyalist celebrations) there was a fire-bombing in one of the smaller towns. Driving through some villages, we would suddenly see British flags. In other places, graffiti was scrawled on bridges with sayings such as, "Loyalists go home".

All The Walls of Belfast, by Sarah Carlson, got all the details of life in Northern Ireland right. As a tourist, I only saw the safe, superficial Belfast. This novel showed me a different side of this culture. There are still strong feelings between Republicans (Catholics) and Loyalists (Protestants). I loved that both sides were equally represented. There is a sweet romance, and lots of tension. This book is a reminder that there are teens who are facing huge challenges due to events that happened generations ago.

What I Liked:

Having visited Northern Ireland just a few months ago, I was really happy with all the little details of life in Belfast. I went to many of the tourist attractions depicted in the novel. And I recognized the idioms and brands of food and drinks. But the book also showed the contrast between the well-to-do and working poor in Belfast. The novel illustrated how people who have not enjoyed the economic improvements of the last two decades vented their frustration by blaming groups of people. There's still a lot of anger simmering just below the surface of this society.


The book has two viewpoints. Danny, a teen who is just graduating high school, has an abusive dad who wants his son to continue a tradition of angry Loyalist pride. But Danny wants more out of life. He dreams of joining the British Army so he can work as a nurse, helping people. Danny has so much against him. It's heartbreaking to see him struggle so he can get out from under his father's thumb.

Fiona is also born in Ireland, but moves with her mother to the United States as a toddler. She thinks she has no relationship with her dad because he just didn't want her in his life. When she learns that her father does want to see her, she insists on visiting. But there was a reason that Fiona's mom fled to America. The truth about why is very complicated.


I really love the romance between Danny and Fiona. Both share a love of music, and have big plans for the future. I like that they also both have some big secrets that they are afraid to tell each other. This adds to the tension in the book.


This book was a page-turner! With Danny's dilemma of needing to get to England for his Army test, and so many family secrets being revealed for Fiona, this book had a certain urgency that was exhilarating. The lead up to the July 12 marches includes the bigger picture of sectarian tensions that is the whole backdrop of the book.

What I Was Mixed About:

Plot Developments:

I was a bit startled by how quickly Danny's world began to crumble. At one point in the story, he makes a series of terrible decisions in a matter of hours. While this made for an exciting development in the book, I found Danny's behavior to be so out of character that it stretched credibility.


I had mixed emotions about Fiona because she is kind of a self-absorbed American. Yes, there is a lot for her to absorb about the continuing conflict in Northern Ireland. But she also doesn't seem to care about how hard everyone is working to make her comfortable on her trip. Her dad works several jobs, but when she goes running off, he must take time off work (probably something that is really hard on him, financially) to go after her. She doesn't apologize or consider that her dad could ill-afford to do this. Several times in the book, she wishes she can just go back to being an oblivious teen in the U.S. and ignore what is happening in Northern Ireland. I think that once her eyes were opened, she would continue to want to be involved, even if the situation is difficult.
Profile Image for Sarah Hunnicutt.
130 reviews2 followers
February 21, 2019
Thank you, @kidlitexchange, for lending me a review copy of this book! All opinions are my own.

This book was highly engaging and I really enjoyed it. It was definitely a rollercoaster ride. So why only four stars? There were times where I was certain I was going to give it five stars, and other parts where I was going to give it three. I'll talk more about that later.

Fiona is an American...mostly. She was born in Ireland but had to flee the country with her mother when she was a toddler. Now she is back as a teenager meeting her father and stepbrothers she doesn't remember. 

Danny has always lived in Belfast, Ireland. His mother died when he was a kid, and his father is an abusive drunk gang member. I learned so much while reading! Even though the war has been over for a very long time, Catholics and Protestants still really hate each other in Ireland. They have walled off neighborhoods in Belfast (hence the title) to keep gangs out of the wrong territory. Danny is from the Protestant side of the wall.

Fiona's family is from the Catholic side of the wall. Fiona is oblivious to most of this at first and gradually learns more and more of the sordid gang history of her own family. But by then, she's already met the cute boy from the wrong side of the wall. 

Again I learned a lot and it was fun learning Irish slang. Also, I had no idea they spoke a different language besides English in Ireland (Gaelic, I know now, kind of embarrassing). I would not let middle schoolers read this book. There is violence, drugs, drinking, and obviously gang activity. I would let a  high schooler read it. 

The parts that bothered me - Fiona is a cool character until you get to the part where she is fighting with her father and mother. SHE IS SUCH A BRAT! I almost stopped reading but by then I was in too deep. Also, her nephew, Finn, keeps acting different ages. Now as a teenager, I probably wouldn't have caught onto this. As an adult with two sons of my own, Finn would sometimes act like a 7-year-old, and at other times would act as my own 3-year-old. He was in a traumatic situation earlier though, so maybe that's why. They should have addressed that though, it was confusing. There were several typos but it does say, "UNCORRECTED PROOF" on my copy so I suppose that's why. Almost every time after an ellipsis, the following word would be missing a letter. Also, the last chapter was supposed to be from Danny's perspective but they wrote "Fiona," at the top of the chapter. All minor issues! 

This book is released to the public on March 12, 2019! 
Profile Image for Susan Apps-Bodilly.
Author 3 books10 followers
May 19, 2019
I loved Sarah Carlson's debut novel set in Belfast Ireland!
Sarah Carlson - All the Walls of Belfast

Note: I was given an Advanced Review Copy of this book in order to provide a fair review.
I also attended Sarah Carlson's book launch at Mystery to Me Bookstore in Madison, WI.

All the Walls of Belfast is set in Northern Ireland today. The two main characters are teens who both remain affected by the “Troubles” that occurred there when they were younger. A large wall still separates Danny’s Protestant neighborhood from Fiona’s dad’s Catholic neighborhood. When Fiona, living in Madison, WI, discovers that her mom has held a long secret from her about her Dad and family that live in Ireland, she feels she must travel there on her own to meet her family. With their unlikely friendship, Danny and Fiona discover unconditional understanding as they both struggle to understand where their families have come from and what they must each do to be true to themselves in the future. Sarah’s portrayal of how intergenerational trauma influences family is powerful and honest. Each family member’s viewpoint of the past “Troubles” and how it influences decisions made today is balanced and true for that character. More than just a story of teenage love and angst, the Belfast setting and the wall itself are metaphors for the “walls” that families put up and break through as they build understanding about their own past in order to move into the future.

At her book launch, Sarah described her in-depth research process which spanned many years of careful study of language, dialect, and culture in Belfast of both Catholic and Protestant families. Her deep understanding of both Fiona’s life in Madison, WI and her family in Ireland along with Danny’s life with friends and family in the Shankill, loyalist part of Northern Ireland make this book an important story. How do we build emotional walls around our past? Can love and understanding successfully break them down? The resilience that Danny and Fiona show amidst turmoil and family barriers is inspirational indeed!
136 reviews
August 14, 2019
All the Walls of Belfast is your classic tale of star-crossed lovers. Fiona’s father, who until a month ago she didn’t know existed, is a former member of the Catholic IRA. Danny’s father and many of his friends are protestant and active members of the UVF. “The Troubles” have played a significant role in both of their lives in the past and may end up keeping them apart.

One thing I loved about this book was that it brought light to a part of history (and present day continuations) that many people overlook. There was a fantastic balance of providing the necessary background information on the conflict but without sounding like a history book. This makes All the Walls of Belfast a very interesting read and adds a depth to the romance in the story. This leads into the second thing I loved about the book: that it was a very realistic star-crossed lovers scenario. Sometimes this trope can come off as cheesy and unbelievable but there is literally a wall between Danny and Fiona. Finally, I loved that this book wasn’t just focused on the relationship between Fiona and Danny, but had many other significant relationships throughout the book, both good and bad, between friends, teachers, siblings, and parents. Every relationship added to the plot of the story and to an understanding of the character and really helped this to not just feel like an insta-love book which I know a lot of people dislike.

The only thing to note that some readers may struggle with at first is some of the language. There is some specific language to Ireland (mainly slang) that a reader from outside of Ireland might not know but I don’t think this is a bad thing as it is very realistic and helps to deepen the sense of place and sense of character.

I may be a little partial as I have family connections to Ireland and loved visiting, but I found this book truly captivating both in terms of the romance and the history and would highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Madelyne DeNovellis.
30 reviews2 followers
December 16, 2019
Man, am I a sucker for novels set in Ireland. I chose this purely for the name of the of the city written on the cover. Though - I am oh so glad I picked it up. Fiona is Belfast born and Wisconsin bred as her mother whisked her away when she was just two years old! Fiona finds her way back to Ireland, however, because she discovers her father is alive. Danny is the son of a drunk and Loyalist. Danny dreams of joining the military. What I love about this book is that it shows two people from two completely different upbringings finding commonality and love between them! All the while, we have the tense back drop of a divided Ireland. A beautiful reminder that walls are not naturally occurring and not immovable and yet- they imprint on the memory of a place for decades to follow.

Read this book. Now.
47 reviews
February 3, 2019
“Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of
this book - all opinions are my own.”
In All the Walls of Belfast, Sarah Carlson’s debut novel paints a dreadful picture of a country in turmoil. The attention to detail of the language, dialect, and slang make this book such an incredible read, but definitely meant for a mature YA audience. A true testament to young love and the necessary blindness to make their world make sense, Danny and Fiona weave their way through war, religious tension, bigotry, family history, and self-discovery. As a reader, the physical and mental anguish is exhausting but so powerful. The love between Fiona and her up-until-now absent father evolves so beautifully amidst the pain while Danny’s tenacious attempts to make something of himself despite his father’s brutal treatment is gut wrenching. Thankfully, Mr. Sinclair recognizes the desperate need for Danny to start fresh in a new country, and along with Fiona, makes it a reality. Perhaps because the author lives outside of Madison, WI, this novel was a winner for me, a fellow Wisconsinite. Absolutely loved it!
Profile Image for Christy.
1,505 reviews258 followers
December 16, 2019
I loved this debut but am not feeling the shaming language the author uses in the description for her second book. Substance use disorders are a health concern we should work holistically toward, not shame. Will no longer support Sarah going forward.


A modern day Romeo and Juliet set in actual historical tension and minus the tragic death? I.AM.IN.

I loved watching Sarah’s lead up to release, showcasing the actual walls of Belfast and the community itself. Her photos and narrative helped set the tone for the story: two communities divided not only by their different ideals, but by a literal wall designed to help keep the peace.

And I think we all have some feelings about walls and the reality of what they bring.

The story could simply be two star-crossed lovers living on opposite sides of the wall but it is not. It is a look at the history and violence that created a need for the wall alongside these fictitious characters’ lives. To say I was captivated is an understatement.

I also appreciate that Sarah explored the complexity of the cultural divide between Fiona and Danny. She’s created characters that will long live in my heart!
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