Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: The Carnival at Bray

The Carnival at Bray
By Jessie Ann Foley
Published 2014 by Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.

When Maggie's mother remarries an Irishman, her life is uprooted to the Irish seaside village of Bray. Life gets even more chaotic when she falls in love and someone she cares about dies unexpectedly. Suddenly, Maggie embarks on a potentially reckless trip to Rome, embracing life over death.

As I imagine is true for a lot of people, I hadn't heard of this book before it was named a Morris Award finalist in December. I'm not sure it would have caught my eye otherwise, but I usually like to read the award winners (and finalists in the case of the Morris and Excellence in Non-fiction). My library didn't own a copy, so I requested it from another area library. It took a long time for my hold to come in, so I just got around to it on my last three-day weekend.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I was into the setting - unlike other historical fiction set in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it felt vital that the book be set in this time. Kurt Cobain's life (and death) serve as an important backdrop to Maggie's story. Though Maggie's musical tastes are specific, her feelings about music are universal, particularly to teenagers. I can remember being a teen and how vital music felt to me, how a song I liked could feel as if it was truly written for me. I can remember belting out lyrics to these songs and feeling them in every fiber of my being. That feeling - it really shines in this novel. Additionally, I loved the Irish setting - surprisingly, about halfway through the novel, I realized that I've been to Bray. I think Foley captured it, and County Wicklow in general, quite perfectly.

I also thought the characters were strong - Maggie was genuine and, as I said before, many of her feelings are universal. I thought her struggles with her family were believable and heartbreaking - I completely understand her confusion of emotions surrounding her mother and her undeniable love for her uncle. I really liked Dan Sean as well, and the role his character played in Maggie's story. I found Eoin's character to be the least well-developed; it's easy to see why Maggie falls for him, but I didn't really feel like I got to know him.

So, this is all pretty positive. Why did I say I'm not sure how I feel about it? Well, because, despite all this stuff I liked, I just have an overall feeling of "meh" about the book. Maybe it's the timing of my reading it - I flew through it in a day and a half, without giving it much deep thought. Or maybe I was just a bit underwhelmed with the ending. I didn't love that, after fighting so hard to live life on her own terms and find her one person, Maggie chooses the more responsible path, at least initially. It just didn't feel like her character at that point in the novel.

Overall, having read the Printz winner and one of the Honor books, I'm not sure, for me, that this book stands up on that level.

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