“The Carnival at Bray” is a young adult novel set primarily in Ireland. It is Jessie Ann Foley’s debut novel. It was released on Oct. 1, 2014.
The early ’90s, in which this novel takes place, is a very interesting period of music for me. I wasn’t born until May of 1994, but I am proud to say that I became a lover of the grunge music scene nonetheless. The atmosphere surrounding the events of “The Carnival at Bray” was what really drew me in. The opening line of the synopsis is, “It’s 1993, and generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement.” I can easily say that I have never read a book that really took advantage of this era and let me live through it as I was never able to. And it’s in Ireland – which means I even get to see how the movement effected people outside of America. I was pretty excited going in.
The protagonist of the novel, Maggie Lynch, is a sixteen year old irish-american girl who has lived her whole life thus far in Chicago. As the book begins, we learn that her mother has fallen in love (as she seems to do every week) with a man who promises her everything and wants to take her back to his home town of Bray, in Ireland. I found Maggie and her little sister’s uprooting to be surprisingly un-impactful on them. Maggie’s main concern is losing contact with her 25 year old rocker uncle, Kevin, who takes her to her very first concert as a going away present. Her friends, however, seem to be unimportant or nonexistent.
Maggie herself is an interesting read as she trekks around the Ireland countryside. She is full of emotion and expository thoughts. I found many of her supporting characters to fit the world seamlessly as well. Maybe too well. For the first half of the novel, Maggie is essentially just a witness to the events around her. She generates opinions, but she doesn’t really play a role in anything. Her life is full of family drama and feeling misunderstood. It takes a great portion of the novel before she finally feels ready to do things for herself. That’s when the novel picks up pace.
Fortunately, the YA romance portion of the book takes a back seat to most of the novel, because I found it to be horribly done. Her love interest, Eoin, is faultless, intelligent, athletically gifted, beautiful, selfless and saves the day at the final moment, over and over again. There is not a single point in the book where Eoin fails to impress or achieve what he wants. He is everything Maggie desires and then some, no compromise necessary. I understand first love, when everything seems so perfect, but honestly, we all know that the ups and downs are going to come, no matter how small. Eoin ruined much of the novel’s later suspense due to his indestructible presence that made every obstacle melt before them effortlessly. It was like a black stain on every fourth page for me. I could read around it, but it was there and it was disappointing.
The real journey of the novel, for me, was Maggie fulfilling the dying wish of a relative, and a dream of her own, by venturing all the way to Rome, Italy and watching Nirvana play live to an enormous crowd. Much of this journey is done by Maggie alone, and it is when she really breaks out of her shell and becomes her own person. She faces several obstacles and situations that could have spelled the end for her, but it is primarily her that overcomes them, although Eoin does show his face.
I’m being a little harsh towards Eoin. He is not portrayed as arrogant or obnoxious. He is deeply in love with Maggie and willing to put everything on the line for her. I just wish that he didn’t make every conflict implode on itself with the bat of an eye.
Overall, I could definitely recommend this book. I found most of the characters to be very moving, coupled with a refreshing setting along the country-coastline of Ireland. It is a fun and heartwarming journey that will make you very reminiscient of the early ’90s if you lived through it or give some insight if you didn’t. I also love characters not having access to their phones or the internet. Social interaction suddenly has to be much more creative.
The novel has a whole section in the back for teaching it to classroom students, an idea probably intended as the author is also a public schools teacher.
On a last note, this novel is somewhat sexually explicit for a young adult story. If that bothers you, be aware going in.
You can find “The Carnival at Bray” on Amazon and most other booksellers.
3.75 / 5.00