Her emotionally unstable mom has just married her latest fling, a guy she barely knew four months, and uprooted the entire family, forcing a move from the familiar Chicago neighborhood to a dreary small town on the coast of Ireland. Unlike her outgoing younger sister, Maggie has trouble making friends her own age and fitting in at her strict Catholic school. She misses her old home, her friends, her grandmother. But she misses her rocker Uncle Kevin the most of all. Despite that her family thought Kevin was a horrible influence, there was no one Maggie related to better. Despite their 10 year age difference, Uncle Kevin was the only person in Maggie's life who treated her like an equal, like a person, and not like a child. He was her best friend, and the only person she fully trusted.
And now he's an ocean away.
As the winter rain falls outside, Maggie spends hours shut in her room, listening to the bands Uncle Kevin introduced her to: Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and especially, especially Nirvana. This music is the only thing that makes sense to Maggie. It's the only thing that makes her feel connected to anything resembling a normal life.
Then comes two very important turning points: Maggie falls deeply in love with a local boy and a sudden tragedy strikes her family.
Spurred into action by these events, and armed with a pair of concert tickets Uncle Kevin sent in his last care package, Maggie runs away from home to make a forbidden trip to Rome where she will finally see the band whose music kept her company during those lonely hours. But it's more than just a road trip. More than just a concert. It's the beginning of everything. And, in some ways, the end.
The Carnival at Bray, by Julie Ann Foley, initially sparked my interest because it is set in the time period when I was a teen--so I suppose one could call it historical fiction. But despite the dated pop culture references, mentions of bands now considered "classic rock," lack of modern technology (no cell phones), and absence of social media, it's still a story that's relatable to teens of today. Family drama, first love, music, unexpected changes, and finding one's place in the world...these are still very important and relevant issues, and The Carnival at Bray handles them beautifully. Maggie is a very "real" character, and Eoin is positively crush-worthy!
The Carnival at Bray was up for several awards this year, and, having read it, it's easy to see why. This one is definitely recommended. --AJB
p.s. On a side note, I'd like to mention that this book would me more appropriate for older teen readers.