Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
Random House: 8/12/2014
eBook, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553390889

The Bradleys see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story.
It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, math teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy.
And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play soccer than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle.
Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.

My Thoughts:

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray is a very highly recommended novel about a family experiencing a tragic death and how they all handle the aftermath.

The Bradleys are an LDS (Mormon) family living in the UK. Parents Ian and Claire have four children: daughter Zippy is sixteen, son Al is fourteen, son Jacob is seven, and the youngest daughter is Issy. A Song for Issy Bradley opens on the morning of Jacob's seventh birthday. Claire is trying to get things ready for his party and has been promised help by Ian, but Ian is serving as a bishop for their church and rushes off to help one of the (many needy) church members who calls, leaving Claire to manage the shopping and the party alone. Issy has stayed in bed because she doesn't feel well, so Claire gives her something for her fever and tries to get everything ready for the party, hoping Issy will sleep and feel better afterwards. After the party, Ian is still gone and Issy is not up. Claire immediately realizes that something is wrong and they call for an ambulance. Issy is hospitalized, but dies from meningitis. 

Each member of the Bradley family tells their story and what they are thinking and experiencing during this picture of their lives during an especially trying and emotional time of their lives. Claire falls into a deep depression, sleeps in Issy's bed and neglects the rest of her family. Ian is like a cheerleader for the LDS church. He knows that there is something wrong but will not get Claire help, even as Zippy asks him to, because it's not what "we"do.  Zippy is a teen girl dealing with her first crush, and guilt over the way her church handles any petting - it's always the girl's fault. Al just wants to play football, something his father is trying to prohibit. Jacob thinks if he has enough faith and prays right he can bring Issy back to life. And Ian just keeps following along with the LDS role of bishop, always going if anyone calls him, neglecting his family who really need him.

I simply can't say enough good things about A Song for Issy Bradley. The writing is stunning, superb, superlative. The character development is outstanding. It's hard to believe that this is Bray's debut novel - it is that good. Now, the subject matter is hard... so hard. Parts of this novel will anger you, and with good reason: a child dies; a woman falls into a black hole of depression; a father tries to ignore it and hides the truth from people so no one will think there is anything wrong; a teenage girl is made to feel guilty and that petting with a young man is her fault, according to what her LDS church teaches; a young man is prohibited from pursuing his passion for football and doubts his faith; a young boy thinks he can pray his sister back to life.

But even as you are indignant and brokenhearted over the abuse/misuse of faith, the family is presented with real empathy and compassion. Claire's questioning of her faith and falling into a depression is very easy to comprehend after the death of her child. Ian's reactions are harder for me to accept. His eagerness to please all the church members and put their needs and desires first while allowing his own family to suffer is unintelligible.  Zippy is a great character and the guilt that she is burdened down with in the name of religion is awful.

Carys Bray grew up in the Mormon church, so she knows her subject matter and infuses every bit of A Song for Issy Bradley with very realistic details of the daily life of an LDS family. The questioning of their beliefs and how women are treated/viewed are based on real facts and the inside knowledge lends an authenticity to the novel that is hard to ignore.

One of the best books I've read this year!

One quote took my breath away since I intimately know and have experienced this feeling when my sister passed away:
"Zippy stared at Issy’s face; she didn’t look peaceful and she didn’t look asleep. She looked like a badly made model of herself, empty of all her Issy-ness. She looked really dead."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.

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