The Carnival at Bray Book Review

Each year the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), reads through hundreds of YA novels to formulate a list of the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) of the year. The committee spends countless hours reading a wide selection of genres and topics pertinent to teens. Out of the 113 books officially nominated for this year's list only 58 books made the cut. The 58 titles were further classified into a list of the 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

I made it a personal goal at the beginning of summer to read the Top 10 titles before September 8, the start date for the new school year. I believe the BFYA committee does a much better job than Times and NPR at creating YA best book lists. I find that the BFYA lists capture the diversity of both authors and topics represented in young adult literature. The committee selects well-written and interesting books that are sure to leave an impact on the reader. I appreciate the time and effort these individuals spend each year to read, review, and select some of the best YA books out there. 

Over the next few weeks I will share my thoughts on each of the books from the Top Ten list. Feel free to read along with me and discover some great pieces of YA literature. The first book on the list is The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley.  

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Set in 1993, this is a story of Maggie Lynch, a sixteen-year-old uprooted from her big-city Chicago life to the small-town life in Bray, Ireland to live with her new stepfather. Faced with the difficulties of navigating a new culture, her broken relationship with her mother, and family tragedy, Maggie makes it her goal to see Nirvana perform in Rome. 

As if moving across the world wasn’t tough enough, Maggie must navigate the rocky shores of this new life without the assistance of modern social media that many of us are accustomed to. She has to make friends the old fashioned way through face-to-face interactions. I really appreciated this aspect of the novel. It brought me back to the days when I would communicate with my friends through hand written letters and calls from a landline.    

Foley’s writing is brilliant. She is a master of poise and character development. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph was precisely chosen to tell the story.  You will find your self hanging on every word. Don't be surprised if you slow your pace to reread sections of the novel because of how profound they speak to you.

“Everything that ever happens to you only happens once, so you better never stop paying attention
— Jessie Ann Foley
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Besides making the AIA 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, The Carnival at Bray also has received the following awards and honors: 

  • Chicago Weekly Best Books of 2014
  • A Michael L. Printz Honor Award Winner
  • Winner, 2014 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014
  • Finalist, William C. Morris Award

Foley's debut novel is an honest coming of age story filled with first love, tragic loss, and the power of music. Teens and adults alike will fall in love with this novel. The Carnival at Bray is a must read! I'm looking forward to reading what Foley writes next.


Don't forget to follow along with Whispering Words and be the first to hear what else is in store! 

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