Released: June 2014
The Mormon faith is one surrounded by enigma and rumours about their orthodox lifestyle, often conjuring images of modestly dressed families who reject the Bible. Although ‘The Book of Mormon’ on the West End stage has helped cast some light into the shadows of ignorance surrounding the religion, it is still an area that would benefit from exposure through the arts – and A Song for Issy Bradley is a wonderful place to start.
The novel begins with a Mormon family where the father, Ian, works as a priest and is neglecting his family in favour of caring for his church community. But his actions send a negative ripple through the rest of his family and have a devastating effect on them all. His wife Claire married into the Mormon faith and is suffering a religious crisis as she struggles to juggle being a mother to four children and a perfect wife whilst her husband is out caring for others.
Eldest son Alma is a typical rebellious teenager who doesn’t like the church and just wants to play football – something his father has banned on religious grounds. On the other hand, eldest daughter Zippy is desperately trying to follow the Book of Mormon to the letter and be virtuous, something that proves to be difficult at the age of 17 as she’s surrounded by boys. It’s all made much harder as it often falls to her to help her mother, as her father is never there. Even seven-year-old Jacob is exploring his own faith and is full of questions with no one to answer them. But sadly, it is Claire and Ian’s youngest child Issy who suffers the consequences of an overwhelmed family trying to be perfect and she dies of meningitis.
Issy’s death is the catalyst for a full family breakdown, which tests their faith to the absolute limits as they each try to make sense of the disaster they’ve been sent.
This is not a happy book, but it is beautiful. The narrative flits between each family member allowing us to hear their innermost thoughts and confessions about what is happening. This can be distressing at times as Claire spirals into depression and takes to Issy’s bed for months, while Ian withdraws further into his faith, leaving the children to battle the storm of their sister’s death alone. As author Carys Bray grew up in a Mormon family before eventually leaving the faith, the novel offers an incredible insight into the truth of such a mysterious religion whilst demonstrating that when it comes down to it, every family has battles to fight.