“Take the boy. Don’t ask permission. There will always be time to do the responsible thing. Before that, live.”
The Carnival at Bray is an electrifying story of loss and triumph, family and adventure, and of the earth-shattering power of music and love from newcomer Jessie Ann Foley.
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 simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life-altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all—live.
"The narrative subtly and carefully interweaves peer and family drama . . . Every character, every place comes alive with crisp, precise detail. Powerfully evocative.”
"Carnival is earmarked to be a classic."
—Anita Lock San Diego Book Review
“I loved it."
—Kelly Jensen Stacked Books
“This romantic and original book will be long remembered by its readers.”
—Amy Cummins, VOYA
“Beautifully-done coming of age story . . . as bittersweet as a first love and just as unforgettable.”
—Jennie K., Forever Young Adult
"Carnival at Bray is a phenomenal book of first love, loss, family, and discovery. I highly recommend to any lover of YA novels."
"This promising debut, set in the heyday of grunge . . . Foley sets the scene vividly, [and] the narrative voice is clear and compelling. She has also populated Bray with a host of quirky, loving, and memorable background characters, which enriches the story."
—Susannah Goldstein, School Library Journal
“I absolutely loved it.”
—Molly Wetta, Wrapped Up In Books
“The novel is well written and engaging. A truly entertaining read.”
—Marti Johnson, Writers’ Rumpus
"Sweet is the wrong word for The Carnival at Bray, but tender works just fine."
—Liz Baulder, New City
"Foley’s prose is lovely, definitely a step up from your average YA fare. But even more important is her deftness with her characters and story."
—Julia Fine, Literary Chicago
“Audiences [will] enjoy the adventure that is The Carnival at Bray.”
–Kristen Nathan, Chicago Literati
"Foley’s debut gets the teenage voice right and the story is messy, heartfelt, and realistic. I devoured it in almost one sitting."
–Lucy, The Reading Date
“The Carnival of Bray is [a] moving coming of age story. Foley is particularly adept at evoking place, writing beautifully of the Irish countryside, and a magical night in Italy. It is a book for older teens and for anyone who enjoys a good read.”
—Suzy Staubach, Uconn Co-op Bookstore
“Harnessing the world-shaking powers of rock ‘n’ roll and young love, The Carnival at Bray captures the perfect teenage alchemy of becoming your own great person, no matter your roots.”
—Chris L. Terry, Zero Fade
“A compelling and evocative tale of firsts--first loss, first love, first big adventures--fueled by the power of music. It swept me away to Ireland and back in time to my own grunge-era teenage years.”
—Stephanie Kuehnert, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
Praise from Book Prize Judges
“Jessie Ann Foley’s first novel captures the essence of the fluid border between youth and adulthood with compelling, richly detailed prose chronicling 15-year-old Maggie’s life in small-town Ireland.”
—Louise Brueggemann, Children’s Services Supervisor, Naperville Public Library.
“Foley’s young adult debut offers readers a wonderful, unique picture of adolescence from a fresh new voice.”
——Emil Ostrovski, The Paradox of Vertical Flight.
“I really fell in love with The Carnival at Bray!”
—Becky Quiroga Curtis, former YA Buyer, Books & Books, Miami, FL.
Chapter 1: September 1993
The carnival at Bray stood huddled against the rain on the rocky coastline of the Irish Sea, the pink and green lights of the old-fashioned Ferris wheel winking and dissolving in the reflection of the waves. Maggie had already ridden the Takeoff, which made her feel like a pebble being skipped across a lake; the Crazy Frog, which whiplashed her back and forth so hard that she dinged her head off the safety bar and emerged with a painful purple egg already rising from her temple; and finally, Space Odyssey, which spun around so fast that gravity suctioned her and Ronnie to the cushioned wall like splattered bugs. Halfway through the ride, a girl who was pinioned across from them barfed, but the suction was so strong that the puke no sooner arced from her mouth than it was sucked back with a wet splat all over her own face. The ride ended abruptly, sending everyone thudding to the ground, and the sisters fled the sour smell of peanuty vomit on wobbly legs.
“Where to next?” Ronnie was counting the remaining tokens in her palm. “I still have enough for three more rides.”
“Aren’t you getting cold?” Maggie looked at her little sister, whose pale, wet hair was plastered to her head and whose hand-me-down windbreaker hung to her knees as warm and waterproof as a plastic grocery bag.
“Yeah, but Mom said she wasn’t going to pick us up until the carnival closes.” Ronnie squinted across the dark road at the row of pubs and moss-streaked hotels where their mother had fled with Colm. “Do you think they’ll get back sooner?”
“And interrupt honeymoon time?” Maggie laughed. “Be serious.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re my age.” “But that’s what you said about ‘douche,’ and ‘condom,’ and the first line of that Liz Phair song,” Ronnie complained.
“Well,” Maggie said, putting an arm around her sister’s thin shoulders and drawing her under the leaky umbrella, “honeymoon time is kind of like all three of those combined. When you’re sixteen and I’m twenty-one, we’ll talk all about it. Now—where should we cash in the rest of those tokens?”
“Bumper cars!” Ronnie shrieked, breaking free from the protection of the umbrella and racing ahead to the arena, where empty cars pointed every which way like in one of those apocalyptic movies where a whole city evacuates to escape an infectious disease.
“Don’t you want to go on the Ferris wheel?” Maggie called after her. She reached up and touched the lump at her temple. It was hot and throbbing, and dotted in the center with a small smear of blood.
“C’mon! Let’s do the bumper cars! Please? Please? Please? Please?” Ronnie hopped up and down beneath her sodden windbreaker.
“Fine,” Maggie sighed, holding out her hand to the rain to clean the blood from her fingers.
Ronnie flashed a winning smile, infectious and gap toothed, and they lined up behind the small herd of other little kids who stood waiting to turn in their tokens. Maggie was taller than all of them by at least a head. Earlier, they’d passed a group of Irish teenagers, kids of about Maggie’s age—maybe even her future classmates at Saint Brigid’s. The boys were dressed in tracksuits and gym shoe brands she’d never heard of, and the girls wore tights under their skirts and heavy gold necklaces. Not one of them had even glanced in her direction. Maggie was quickly learning that being Irish-American, as she was, was quite different than actually being Irish. Now, she stood behind Ronnie and watched the group as they walked toward the road. Their clothes, their slang, the way they wore their hair: all of it was foreign and unfamiliar; all of it was new, intimidating, and strange. I’m never going to fit in here, she thought.