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The Carnival at Bray

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,584 ratings  ·  506 reviews
It's 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she'll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simul ...more
Paperback, 235 pages
Published October 1st 2014 by Elephant Rock Productions, Inc. (first published January 1st 2014)
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Laurie I'm a middle school librarian (age 11-14) and for students reading YA realistic fiction (John Green etc.) I don't hesitate to recommend this book. I w…moreI'm a middle school librarian (age 11-14) and for students reading YA realistic fiction (John Green etc.) I don't hesitate to recommend this book. I wouldn't make it a required reading for all freshmen, but would have no problem including it on a recommended reading list that students choose from.(less)
Laurie Wrong book? The Carnival at Bray is realistic fiction set in 1993 Ireland. Great setting and skilled characterization.

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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  2,584 ratings  ·  506 reviews

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David Schaafsma
2/15/20, update. Another reading for a class I call Growing Up, but this time in conjunction with three other Irish stories, "Eveline," by James Joyce, Milkman by Anna Burns, and Normal People by Sally Rooney featuring three protagonist women who are dealing with love, sex, romance, men of all kinds and are fairly traumatized in various ways (Joyce uses the word "paralysis") by all this. Foley's story is YA, Irish-American, set in both Chicago and Bray, Ireland and features maybe a less traumati ...more
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
Objectively, this is a very, very, very good book.

But I loved it for a lot of subjective, emotional reasons, particularly because I lived in Ireland around the same time as the main character, which I was around the same age (I was a bit older) and this book took me right back to that time and place.
This had the set up of everything I dislike: a 90s setting that served the purpose of being so for the grunge music and to avoid the social media/mobile phone reality of today.

But I loved it.

This is a story about love and loss, about learning how to make a life and a living when everything that had been a part of your life is torn away, by forces you can never understand. It's about choices other people make and how deeply they impact you personally.

Maggie's mother remarried Colm, and they --
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
2015 Morris Finalist

When I read the back of this book, I thought, "Hmm." It felt like a (recent) historical fiction with its emphasis on '90s grunge music and the highlights of Kurt Cobain's life. Because my teen years spanned through part of the '90s, I was intrigued. My favorite aspect of this book was the fact that the writing felt effortless. Too often, books' messages or prose feel forced, and with this book, I felt as if I was whisked along for the (very bumpy) ride. As a former high schoo
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
There's almost a subgenre in YA of books were girls take off with just a few things in a backpack and go to see the world. They usually end up in a youth hostel, making new friends, possibly getting robbed, but ultimately having a life-changing experience. Think 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES or WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN. And in many ways, this is another addition to that subgenre, but it's also something more. It's gritty, and dark, and has a lot to say about mothers and daughters, about growing up, abou ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-2016-read
I don't know man, I was all ready to love this one but it never clicked with me.

As far as contemporary plots go, setting a novel in 90s Ireland and filling it with grunge and teenage angst should be everything I need. In theory, at least, because despite sounding like my kind of book I never fell in love with it. Never connected to Maggie or her family despite a fair amount of potential character depth. Never fell in love with the town of Bray despite Ireland being full of gray, salty, barebones
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Reminded me A LOT of Gayle Forman's One Day/One Year books.
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
A quiet, poignant novel that filled me with nostalgia for the 90's. It would have been five stars without that unnecessary epilogue.
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think the main theme for this book is how friendship can take you through hard times, and how important friendship is. In this book, Maggie the main character just moved to Bray in Ireland. When she first arrived in school, she had no friends but her uncle. She was kind of depressed, but one day, her uncle Kevin gave her two tickets to her favorite artist's concert. Kevin also found her a boyfriend with his amazing social skills. She got really excited. When she decided to go to the concert, s ...more
I'm always interested in reading the Printz award books, which I find usually have great writing, interesting (if controversial) topics, insightful themes and plots, or intriguing characters. But I have to be honest with you, this book, while not terrible, failed to meet any of those criteria. It was really just . . . meh. The writing wasn't bad, but it didn't stand out in any way. The characters weren't completely boring, but they didn't inspire any real interest or sympathy. Even the one chara ...more
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Denise by: 273
Shelves: first-reads
Full disclosure: I was chosen a First Reads winner, and received a paperback copy of The Carnival at Bray in the mail. That in no way influenced the review that follows.

This coming-of-age novel may be considered YA, but it's captivating enough that adults will enjoy it, especially since it is set in 1993; someone in her teens then is, of course, in her thirties now. I also liked that choice of a time frame because Maggie, the 16-year-old protagonist, is uprooted from her home in Chicago and move
Bree Hodges
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Such a great novel, a must read !!!!
I fell in love with the everything about this novel. Way to go Jessie Foley :)
Caiti S
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Long version: My reasons for loving this book are almost entirely personal and imbued with nostalgia. This coming-of-age YA story focuses on a teen girl growing up in the nineties who moves from Chicago to eastern Ireland with her family. I, comparatively, am a woman who grew up in the nineties, from Chicago, who spent seven months living in eastern Ireland, about a 35-minute drive from the setting in the book (in fact, I spent a day hiking between Bray and Greystones, and spent some time at the ...more
Malissa Stark
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley is a different kind of Young Adult novel. It's one of the few that is actually enjoyable and intellectually stimulating enough for an adult audience, while still carrying all the themes and conflicts that young adults crave.

I found that I couldn't put the book down, and I attribute that to the incredible characters. Maggie is the misfit girl we all were growing up, the one who discovers the power of music and is changed forever. Uncle Kevin gives Maggie
This book was amazing.


To me, this book represents my entire generation. It was one of those reads that made me feel the magic of what it was to be a teenager. It made me feel like anything was possible. This book encompassed so many big topics. Things like death, suicide, sex (both the first awkward/terrible/unhealthy sexual experiences and the healthy sexual experiences) and what it means to be a teenager. This book was set in Ireland which made for such a fantastic back drop for the story.
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful story—so good I read the final 50 pages twice. This is only Jessie Ann Foley's first novel, but she is absolutely on my watch list. A lot of YA novels deal with the power of music, but I don't think any came as close to capturing my experience of falling in love with song. Maybe it helps that the book takes place in the early 90s and the main character is indoctrinated in the rising grunge movement at a Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream album release show at the Metro in my hometo ...more
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised by how much I actually ended up enjoying this book. I put it off for so long that I really wasn't sure what to expect. I liked the relationship that Maggie had with her uncle even though her uncle was super toxic.

It is definitely something that I would only recommend to upperclassmen because of one of the situations that happened earlier on in the book. I'm surprised in the review that I saw from SLJ that they didn't mention this at all.

I'm not a fan of the cover of the book. I w
Tori Sachtleben
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ya-books
2.5 stars. The book was okay, but it read to me like a an ode to a decade that the author just missed as a kid and so she idealized it in a way that didn't ring quite true. It didn't capture the nineties in an authentic way for a book so much about the music of the nineties. Younger readers probably won't have an issue with it.
Samantha (WLABB)
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pre-2017, ya, romance
For as many years as she could remember, Maggie's life was constantly being disrupted so her mother could follow her latest love interest. It was an endless cycle of watching her mother fall in and out of love, and Maggie, inevitably, was left picking up the pieces. This time, Maggie was forced to relocate across the Atlantic, to the small Irish town of Bray. It was in these new surroundings that Maggie experienced some wonderful and devastating firsts, while also finding herself.

Another emotion
Maggie lives in Chicago with her loving Nana, annoying and precocious little sister (Ronnie), high-maintenance mom, and her godfather, Uncle Kevin. Ah, Uncle Kevin - only 10 years younger than Maggie. He’s the coolest of cool - plays guitar in a band, smokes and drinks, has tons of friends, and takes Maggie to epic concerts (well, one epic concert and I mean EPIC - the Smashing Pumpkins’ album release show for Siamese Dream at a small club in the city). Needlesstosay, Maggie worships Uncle Kevin ...more
Katherine Kurre
Oct 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley is the quintessential coming-of-age tale. It centers on Maggie Lynch, a 16-year-old girl whose life has just been uprooted by a move to Ireland. Throughout the move, Maggie learns about herself and about the people around her. Her mother Laura, her stepfather Colm, her sister Ronnie, her grandmother Nanny Ei, her Uncle Kevin, and friends Dan Sean, Aíne, Eoin among others all play vital roles in Maggie’s self-development.

I enjoyed this book because I felt
When I saw this book was set in the 90s I rented it from my library and said get ready eyes, we're reading reading all night! Something about books set in the 80s or 90s makes my little Millennial heart totally pitter patter to the beat of my tight Tamagotchi, Giga Pet and Nano dawg!

This was no different. I picked it up with out really reading what is was about but from the set up of (view spoiler)
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Blazed through this in one sitting. It has everything: all the music I miss from the grunge era, the romance of Europe, the romance and intrigue of hot Irish boys, the days where a cellphone was not the Parental Leash of Doom (trust me on this, youths, you could get up to a lot more mischief without one)...

Part of the reason I loved this so much is because it describes "my" music, and it's hard to disentangle those feelings from the book. I don't know if anyone who didn't grow up with Nirvana, S
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I sort of want to be friends with this author now. While I certainly didn't get to take a pilgrammage to Rome, I was a girl from (near) Chicago who lived in Bray for a while in the 90s (1997). One of the characters asks "Have you been to Brayhead?" and I responded "Of course I have!" (out loud, so the lady next to me at the pharmacy waiting room gave me that 'you're a crazy lady' look).

Personal experience fangirling aside, this is a beautiful book. Maggie's a real, flawed but smart teenager who
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was really excited about this book until I realized it was set in the early 90's during grunge. One co-worker was very enthusiastic about it and when it won a Printz honor this morning I decided to pull it off my shelf and take a crack at it.

I literally could not and did not put this down until I was finished.

It was an incredibly satisfying book and made me want to buy a plane ticket to anywhere and go to a live concert STAT. Foley perfectly captures the First Concert Experience and the stra
Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it
It's Fall 1993, and Maggie has just moved with her little sister, her mom and her stepdad from Chicago to Ireland. Her uncle and godfather Kevin, who's only 10 years older than her, is her one true friend and confidante. After a brief visit by Kevin, tragedy ensues and causes Maggie to rethink what's important in her life.

Love, music, friendship and family are all key themes in the book. I did enjoy it, but I wanted more. Maggie's voice tended to sound more adult than teen in some instances, an
Manik Sukoco
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Carnival at Bray weaves a story of love and friendship in the sophisticated, yet, very real voice of Maggie Lynch. Foley brilliantly tells the story of young Maggie Lynch who personifies every teenager's angst - fitting in, finding love, rebellion, navigating friendships and becoming an adult. The story effortlessly takes us on this teenager's journey while providing delightful nostalgia for those of us lucky enough to be teens in the 90's. This page turner is so honest and real that I easil ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I would give the Carnival at Bray a million stars if I could. Sixteen-year-old Maggie's reflections on adjusting to her new life in Ireland in the midst of a 90s grunge scene were brilliantly captivating and authentic. This book gripped my heart the moment Maggie met Dean Sean O'Callaghan and until the last page I was laughing, crying and devouring each word. There was also a certain moment that required listening to Nirvana with a glass of wine in hand whilst smiling harder than I have all week ...more
Jeanette Johnson
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
This is an excellent story. I see why it became a Printz Honor recipient. I am especially impressed that it was a debut novel as well. I can't wait to see what Jessie Ann Foley comes up with next. Thank you Jennifer for the recommendation as well :) This book is very realistic in it's emotions and raw beauty. It absolutely captured the essence of the time as well as the experiences of Maggie and her family as they journey from Chicago to Bray and life in a small community. This will be a book I ...more
Tena Edlin
I just loved this book. I have such respect for authors who truly remember what it felt like to be a teenager and the mess of contradictions that involves. I got so caught up in this story and in the characters, especially Maggie. I think the book captures what music means to us when we're teenagers. Every song is tied to a memory and an experience. Great book.
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