The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley : a Beautiful Coming of Age Novel

A few weeks ago, the Book Cellar hosted the First Annual Chicago Young Adult Book Fest. YA authors from around the country gathered at the Sulzer library to speak on panels about social media, world creation, and even sex. The audience was filled with a curious mix of teenage girls and adults, and the discussion was fascinating. For a struggling book writer like me, it was better than digging deep into a fresh jar of Nutella.

I walked out inspired and loaded down with a large pile of young adult titles to stack on my nightstand. I’ve been working my way through the pile slowly and deliciously, and my favorite read so far has been The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley. Add it to your summer reading list RIGHT NOW.

The Carnival at BrayJessie Ann Foley is a Chicago Public Schools teacher and this is her first novel. It’s a gorgeous coming of age story set in the early 90s. The story is told from 16-year old Maggie’s point of view. Maggie’s mother is well meaning, but quick to fall in and out of love, upending Maggie and her sister’s lives in the wake of her emotions. When her latest boyfriend proposes, Maggie and her sister have to leave their Chicago lives to relocate to a small town in Ireland called Bray. Maggie leaves behind her high school, her friends, her grandmother, and most importantly, her favorite uncle Kevin.

Maggie’s struggle to adapt to her new Catholic all girls school and life in this tiny seaside town is brought to life in an authentic narrative, studded with the lyrics of Pearl Jam. She experiences great loss and great love. As someone who moved around a lot to different countries in that period of my life, the entire experience rang very true and the novel really moved me.

I’ll leave you to discover the rest of the plot twists on your own. Put the Carnival at Bray on your summer reading list and share it with the teen in your life, and you’ll have much to discuss. Be warned that there is some age appropriate sexual content.

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