A Song for Issy Bradley is the captivating debut novel of talented author Carys Bray. Set in modern day Britain this heart-breaking story shows a family’s struggle to overcome the loss of their youngest child whilst also adhering to the strict rules of their Mormon religion.
It begins with seven-year-old Jacob’s birthday and Mum, Claire, is rushing around with last minute party preparations, whilst her husband, Bishop Ian, is off attending to his religious duties. Although Claire is aware that Issy is feeling poorly she does not realize how serious it is until much later - too much later. After being rushed to hospital with meningitis Issy’s prognosis is not good. Despite Ian’s blessings and prayers no miracle occurs and Issy passes away the following day.
The main storyline is about how the characters cope with this shockingly sudden loss. Claire hides herself away from everyone by remaining in bed for weeks and ignoring her duties and her family’s pleas. Ian, worried that Claire is not grieving in the proper Mormon way, throws himself even deeper into religion by focusing on what is expected of him as a Bishop rather than concentrating on his children’s needs.
Zipporah, the eldest, is expected to become the woman of the house until Claire returns to “normal”. As well as studying for her exams and doing the housework, Ian insists she attend all church events for people her age. Alone she worries about love, marriage and falling into sin; she would really like to be able to talk to her Mum. Alma, on the other hand, is becoming more and more rebellious. Not only does he have a stupid name (Alma was named after a prophet in the book of Mormon) his ambition to become a professional footballer is not conducive to living the gospel. Although he makes jokes and rude remarks about religious ideas there is still a part of him that believes, and despite his attitude it is clear he is deeply affected by Issy’s death.
Jacob’s reaction is the most heart wrenching of all. Being so young he believes everything he is told especially the bible stories he hears at church. If Jesus can bring people back to life, perhaps Issy can live again? He puts his faith in God and waits in vain for his sister’s miraculous return.
The story is shown through each of these five character’s point of views, which is interesting as the reader gets a chance to see how each person’s actions affect the others and gives a greater insight into character developments. It is gratifying to witness, albeit slowly, the family pick themselves up and begin to work together and carry on.
As to be expected with a story about Mormons there is a large amount of bible quotation. Many are from the Book of Mormon but there are numerous biblical references that Christians of all denominations will appreciate. The author was raised as a Mormon so it can only be assumed that all the details are accurate. Non-believers, however, should not be put off from reading this beautiful book: it is the way in which people deal with loss that is important and there is no preaching at the reader or attempts to convert.
This novel is highly recommended for female and male readers alike, particularly those who enjoy emotionally charged stories; and, of course, those interested in religion will love this book too.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon