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A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray - Review

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

This book is my book club book for December, so I bought it on eBay for a few quid in November, and started reading it pretty soon after because I wanted to get it read before book club. Rae chose the book and I think in general the book club will like it.

It is about the Bradley family, a devout Mormon family living somewhere around Southport on the north west coast. Dad Ian is a Bishop in the local church, mum Claire stays at home with their four children, Zippy, Alma, Jacob, and Issy.

One Saturday in October, it is Jacob's seventh birthday and he's having a party. Ian is called away on Bishop duties, so Claire has to rush to the shops herself to buy supplies. She leaves Issy in bed, and when she gets back Issy is still there. She gives her some medicine, and leaves her to sleep, distracted by the party. Later, she realises Issy is really ill and rushes her to hospital, where it turns out she's suffering from meningitis and won't live. She dies the next day.

The book is told from the points of view of each of the remaining family members as they're trying to deal with Issy's death. Claire retreats to bed, unable to get up and face the world and feeling that she isn't devout enough to have stopped this from happening. Ian is determined to keep a stiff upper lip, to use his faith that they will all be reconciled in the next life with Issy to stop him from thinking too much about his children or Claire or his own grief.

Zippo, sixteen, is in love with President Carmichael's son, Adam. She wants to be a good Mormon girl and attends all the meetings about preparing for marriage and being a faithful wife, but it's difficult when she is also running the house in Claire's absence and also trying to fit in with her friends. I liked Zippo (from Zipporah, she was Moses' wife apparently) and wish we had seen more of her point of view.

Thirteen year old Alma (a boy, named after a Mormon prophet) isn't very religious. He finds his dad's rules difficult to live by and he just wants to play football. He was an excellent teenage character and I loved him.

Jacob is seven and knows that miracles happen. All he needs to do is find the right thing to do that will resurrect Issy from the dead.

All five members of the family are coping terribly and everything is falling apart. The Mormon element means that while they do have some support, they're also judged quite heavily, often under the guise of concern. Claire wasn't a member when she met Ian, and their story is told too.

I really liked the book, I liked each character - even Ian, although he is quite unsympathetic at times. I learnt a lot more about the Mormon church than I did know, and I wasn't starting from nothing. I found it quite an interesting look into something most people don't know a lot about. In that way it reminded me of The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris. It also reminded me of The Lovely Bones, which I read years and years ago while at university.

Carys Bray grew up in a Mormon family herself but has now left the church. This was her first novel but I would definitely read something else by her now.

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