By Jessie Ann Foley
When her flighty mother marries Irishman Colm, Maggie uproots her life in Chicago to move with her sister, her mother, and new stepfather to Bray, Ireland. An outsider in more ways than one, Maggie struggles to adapt to her new home across the Atlantic. Socially rejected at school and constantly at odds with her family at home, Maggie finds solace and understanding in her uncle Kevin. Maggie idolizes her uncle, a rocker whose vices lead him to trouble and who is often a point of contention between Maggie and her mother.
Despite a shaky start, things begin to look up when Maggie meets Eoin, an attractive local young man whose own past is rockier than Maggie’s. However, when tragedy strikes, her world is once again turned upside down. Fleeing in the middle of the night, Maggie goes on a trip of self-discovery that will change how she sees the world and that will lead her to find out what is truly important. Through it all Maggie learns that while death may be inevitable, the will to live can burn brighter in the darkest of times. Set in the early 90s Grunge era, Carnival at Bray takes place in a world of music, drugs, and romance. It captivates the reader from the first page and for a long time after the last.
What Jessie Ann Foley has created with Carnival at Bray is a work of art I have not often enjoyed in young adult novels. Her writing is lyrical, her characters memorable. The reader follows Maggie as she stumbles through the ups and downs of adolescence, an uncertain yet strong protagonist. One of the most intriguing points of the story is the resolution. As in real life, not all conflicts are resolved by the end and tied up with a neat bow. By the final page, Maggie does not go to bed with her problems magically fixed. However she comes away with a new understanding about life that it’s the bad times that make the good ones that much more precious. This is what makes the Jessie Foley’s characters and story so relatable and enjoyable. It is a compelling and beautiful story that is applicable in any
generation, future and past.
Carnival at Bray is a phenomenal book of first love, loss, family, and discovery. It is about the heartbreak and necessity of growing up, and that loss does not have to be an end. It can also be a beginning. Anyone who has ever felt like the outsider in life will find something worthwhile and meaningful in this book. It is a book that I would read again and again and that I highly recommend to any lover of YA novels.