A Song for Issy Bradley is a truly remarkable book. The characters are engaging. The story is tender and compelling. This is one of those books that is difficult to put down. As far as content and scope, it reminds me considerably of Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys; there is that same sense of tragedy thrown at an unsuspecting family. As far as tone, ...Issy Bradley reminds me of Tell the Wolves I’m Home; there is a similar mix of joy and sorrow, hope and loss, naivety and strength. This novel is surprisingly funny at times, and even more surprisingly eloquent when it seems the writer may be bordering Hallmark-style fluff. Readers of moving family dramas will likely enjoy this one.
The tragedy that strikes the Bradley family is devastating. The way each of the characters copes with the tragedy and each of the following events is a large part of what makes this book so compelling. The fact that the Bradleys are a Mormon family is one of the novel’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. On a positive side, it makes for some wonderful drama; each of the characters is pulled into a battle with the community, the church, the family, and with themselves. This drama has the potential to raise questions for the reader as it does for the characters. On the other side, it is clear that the author has a bone to pick with the LDS church. It is clear early on that she has set out to embarrass the church and its beliefs as much as possible without blatantly declaring war. I think Bray does an admirable job at times of restraining her attacks, but there are other times when her influence is perhaps too present in the narrative. I’m all for testing institutions of all kinds, but I think the key is subtlety. Bray could have posed the same questions without seeming insensitive. That being said, anyone of Mormon faith who is not open to debate and the exploration of so-called flaws in their religion will not want to read this book; there is no doubt in my mind you will hate it.
A Song for Issy Bradley is another one of those sad family dramas that many of us love. But even for those who hate the genre there is much to enjoy: the structure, the characters, the passion. It is full of emotion, but some of that emotion may seem manipulative, especially in regards to the church. And it is because of this reason especially that not everyone will love this otherwise wonderful novel.