Caraval, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Caraval, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Sisters escape abusive father to play dangerous magic game.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 26 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Here the social mores of stricter, Victorian-style times -- when a girl's marriage is a duty -- clash with a magical world that favors exploring one's own desires. Readers can research when this shift occurred in our real history, including when girls were no longer officially property of first their fathers, then husbands.

Positive Messages

Reveals the courage it takes to stand up to an abuser and get out from under their power. The issue of trust comes up repeatedly as nothing is exactly as it seems during the game. Also, boldness to make one's own choices wins out over fear of the unknown.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Scarlett is an older sister who often acts as protective parent to her younger sister, Donatella. Their mother left them at a young age and their father controls them by hitting and manipulative power plays. Scarlett is determined to find her sister when she goes missing and willing to sacrifice anything to find her and keep her safe. She also works on saving herself, moving from a safe and predictable life of no choices to a life seeking the happiness she desires.


A father hits his teen girl, and there's talk of years of his abuse and manipulation. A face slashed with a knife, a near drowning, a drugging and kidnapping, and talk of a drowning by force with a girl made to watch. Much talk of a death by suicide when a girl falls off a balcony. Other deaths in the game from stabbing and suicide that feel real and traumatic to the main character, with doubt about whether it's all part of the game. Characters drink small amounts of each other's blood.


Kissing and a girl partially undressed (and embarrassed) in front of a man. Talk of a girl's many suitors and rendezvous with men, but most of it is just talk. A kissing tent with participants inside. Some teasing innuendo as main characters pretend to be engaged.


"Bastard" twice.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen girl drinks to excess, game participants hang out in taverns, a man swigs alcohol out of the bottle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stephanie Garber's Caraval is a fantasy-romance about two sisters running away from their abusive father to an enchanted island where, for one week, they're part of an immersive magical game. Readers will spend much time wondering what's real in the game, but a few deaths of characters close to the main character feel very real. Also, a character is slashed with a knife, and another is drugged and kidnapped and almost drowns. Other mature content includes some kissing and innuendo and a teen girl drinking to excess. Besides being an immersive fantasy, this story reminds readers of the courage it takes to stand up to an abuser and get out from under the abuser's power and even the courage it takes to forge your own path.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 3-year-old Written bylostintomes December 4, 2018

Magical and full of whimsy!

Caraval was effortless to read. The words just floated off the page and I was completely submersed in the story. It was addicting and exciting! I couldn't... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bylerivaille June 16, 2017
"Caraval" is a magical, enchanting book with an interesting plot and twists on every corner. And with all of those twists, the story can get a bit con... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLucia Redman September 30, 2020

A book like no other.

Caraval is full of plot twists, secrets, mysteries and even a few deaths. A great read. And I cannot wait to read the next!!

What's the story?

In CARAVAL, every year for her whole childhood, Scarlett has sent letters to Master Legend, asking him to come to her small island with his magic performers -- until one year she tells him not to come because she's getting married. Of course, that's the year she gets a letter back, with three tickets enclosed, one for her, one for her impetuous younger sister, Donatella, and one for the fiancé Scarlett has never met. Donatella is ecstatic about the news, and so is the handsome man Scarlett catches her with in the cellar, Julian. Julian has been to Caraval before and has an offer for them: He'll sneak them to the location -- Master Legend's famed private island, Isla de los Suenos -- in exchange for one of the tickets (the sisters have longed to escape their abusive father). Late at night Julian and Donatella drug Scarlett and drag her onto a boat. When she wakes, it's just her and Julian on a rowboat headed for the island, and Donatella's nowhere to be found. Quickly Scarlett discovers Donatella's been kidnapped and that Caraval is really a magical game, a dangerous one if Scarlett doesn't find her sister before the week is out.

Is it any good?

Don't let the magical island setting fool you -- there's nothing laid back about this absorbing tale that's part smoldering forbidden romance, part rescue mission. Yes, it's set on a fantasy island, one readers would probably love to linger on if first-time author Stephanie Garber would let them. Garber doesn't linger on the details of world building -- or even let the characters sit down for a meal (do they ever eat?). Still, the fast pace does have the advantage of keeping readers fully immersed in the mystery as much as the main character, Scarlett. What's real? Who are the performers and who are the other players? Why is Scarlett's sister the one kidnapped, the one tied to the prize? How much danger is she really in?

Caraval is a zip-through read once you hit the halfway point, with more than a few eye-opening surprises at the end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the game in Caraval is played at night, instead of during the day. Are the actions of game participants in the end really consequence-free?

  • As you read the story, did you trust the right people to help Scarlett? Or trust too much? Is it better to be too trusting or too wary of others?

  • What do you think of the cliffhanger at the end? Will you read more stories in the series?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love magic and fantasy

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