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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Poetry; discussion of classic literature and 1990s rock bands; European geography and customs.
Treasure the time you have with those closest to you. Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. You can love people despite their flaws, and you're worthy of being loved despite yours.
Positive Role Models
In Chicago, Maggie's grandmother and uncle give her much needed stability. Kevin, her uncle and godfather, is a bit of a screw-up, but he loves Maggie fiercely and introduces her to essential books and rock bands, clues her in on the ways of the world, and wants her to learn from his mistakes. Eoin's aunt and uncle take him in because his mother is ill. An elderly man takes an interest in Maggie, lets his home be a safe haven for her. A teacher gives her advice and help.
Violence & Scariness
Character throws ashtray at someone's head. Another character throws a liquor bottle at someone, resulting in minor injury. Long, bloody fistfight, resulting in broken nose and teeth and smashed furniture and dishes. Adult tries to strangle child.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kissing, including French kissing. Teen sees people having sex. Teen sees porn. Kid overhears adults having sex. Description of girl giving boy oral sex. Teen has sex.
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"F--k" and its variations, "s--t" and its variations, "bitch," "Christ," "bulls--t," "d--k," "goddamn," "ass," "Jesus," "piss," "slut."
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Products & Purchases
Coke, Newport cigarettes, Nyquil, Chevy Nova, Golden Nugget restaurant, Days Inn, Gatorade, Papa Chris restaurant, Baileys Irish Cream, Spin magazine, Twizzlers, Dunnes, HMV, White Castle, Lynx Dark Temptation cologne, McDonald's, Club Orange soda, Cidona, People magazine, West Coast Cooler, Converse, Dr. Martens, Volkswagen, Penney's, Boots.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink to excess frequently, and one sometimes takes a sleeping pill with alcohol. Parent has alcohol problem. Adults and teens smoke pot. Adult gives teen alcohol. Teens drink to excess. Adults and teens smoke cigarettes. Character uses cocaine. Character has drug problem but is not shown using.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Carnival at Bray is a coming-of-age story about Chicago teen Maggie Lynch, who is uprooted and moved to Ireland when her mother's boyfriend lands a job there. Maggie has trouble navigating her new life in the town of Bray, while also dealing with her hard-drinking mom and missing her loving, supportive grandmother and uncle back in Chicago. Early 1990s music, especially grunge (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins), plays a large role in the story. When tragedy strikes, she embarks on a pilgrimage to honor the memory of a loved one. Characters sneak out and run away. Families fight ferociously, verbally and physically. Teen and adult characters smoke, drink, do drugs, and have sex. Infrequent strong language includes "s--t," "f--k," and their variations. The Carnival at Bray was named a 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book.
Is It Any Good?
In The Carnival at Bray, author Jessie Ann Foley paints an honest and moving portrait of the turmoil faced by a teen raised in a dysfunctional family. Maggie's mom drinks too much, has a quick temper, and goes through one boyfriend after another. Maggie's encounters with the opposite sex are mostly depicted in a realistic way, except for the beginning of her relationship with Eoin. They barely speak and hardly know each other before they're kissing. This kind of "insta-love" is jarring and out of place in an otherwise realistic novel. Maggie's grief over a tragedy and her rage at her mother are palpable. Her journey to Rome to fulfill a promise is a thrill and an object lesson in flying by the seat of your pants.
Foley's writing is beautiful and descriptive, and the dialogue rings true. The book shines a light on why many people turn to drugs, alcohol, and sex to combat deep-seated unhappiness. The concert scenes accurately capture the excitement of discovering music that speaks to you and sharing that euphoria with a crowd of strangers. The ending, however, feels rushed and disappointing. After so much action and anguish, Foley only gives us a paragraph followed by a brief epilogue to tell readers what happens. The book has a serious time line error regarding Kurt Cobain's death and the subsequent cancellation of Nirvana's European tour. It also has continuity errors regarding Eoin's academic situation and the status of his and Maggie's relationship at the end.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.