Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley - Book Review

For years I've longed to see literature written for a wider audience featuring members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or at the very least some LDS characters. I hoped to see accurate and fair portrayals so that readers could get a glimpse of the lives of members.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray is about a Latter-day Saint family living in Great Britian. Bishop Bradley leads his family as he strives to follow each commandment and rule with exactness and his loving wife Claire, a convert to the church, works hard to support him. When their youngest daughter, four year old Issy dies from meningitis, their family faces a crisis of faith as they each struggle to overcome their sorrow and the tragic changes to their family.

Bray excels at creating emotion. The heartache and depression faced by Claire is tangible and heartfelt. As a mother I could so easily understand her reactions to the death of her little girl. Crumbling in on herself, Claire has nothing left to give the rest of her family. The other members of the Bradley family face the trial in their own ways. Bishop Bradley is determined to carry on and pushes his grief aside to continue serving the congregation. Zippy feels lost as she needs the comfort and advice from her mother and can't reach her. Alma, or Al as he would prefer to be called, is resentful and snarky. Sweet, seven year old Jacob is praying for a miracle. As simply a discussion of death and healing and mourning, A Song of Issy Bradley is a beautiful and tender novel.

Where Bray strays is in her basic representation of the church and its membership. Determined to give an overview of every curious religious practice, she fills the books with details that have no bearing to the story and doesn't provide a reasonable explanation. Also, they tend to be described by the characters that are having issues or doubts about the practice and so the derision is evident. There is very little kindness offered in the characterization of Bishop Bradley. He is presented as the ultimate misogynist. The other LDS characters in the book are caricatures--they are exaggerated and ridiculous. Most members would concede that we may have met a person similar to some of the people in the book but they are rare and usually considered "lovable nuts" even by the other members. Yet, in Bray's book we meet only these folks. Where, I wonder, are all the thoughtful and caring members of the church that I know and have associated with over the years? These characters represent the work of a propagandist, not a novelist.

I had trouble placing the novel in the proper time period. While it was intended to be contemporary, so much of the church "culture" described felt like the 1980's or 90's--especially in the representation of the way morality was taught to the youth by some shortsighted local leaders and how mental illness and depression are treated within the church. The church, just like all society, has come a long way in the past decades about how to treat mental illness. Also, quite often the church's doctrine presented in the novel was simply wrong.

Overall, what could have been a moving and emotional story about a family's struggle with grief and their faith, was overshadowed by the constant and subtle disparaging of the religion.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray was published by Ballantine Books in August 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of A Song for Issy Bradley. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

1 comment:

Jessica McCann said...

Great review, Cindi, as always. I appreciate your insights and frank opinions.

Have you seen or read Sandra Dallas' recent book TRUE SISTERS? I read and enjoyed it, though I'm curious to know what someone of LDS faith would think of it and how accurate the religion was portrayed. It takes place long ago, when polygamy was encouraged and the author clearly has strong negative feelings in that regard and paints a somewhat negative picture of the men in general. Still, I felt she presented a fairly balanced story, and overall a positive one. Here's my Goodreads review, if you're interested.