A surprising number of Mormon novels came out in 2014, but none of them seemed to receive as much attention as Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley. Admittedly, when I first learned about the novel, I yawned. Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels had just given us a novel about a dysfunctional Mormon family in the United Kingdom, so nothing about Issy Bradley seemed all that original. For this reason, perhaps, I took my time getting to the novel—a delay I now regret. While A Song for Issy Bradley is not the One Mighty and Strong Novel avid #MormonLit watchers are waiting for, it is an impressive addition to a growing list of well-written and finely-crafted twenty-first century Mormon novels.
A Song for Issy Bradley takes place within a small Mormon community in Southport, a coastal town in the United Kingdom. Its main characters, the Bradleys, are a typical LDS family with too many obligations and hardly any time to fulfill them. When the novel opens, their home is on the brink of bedlam. It is seven-year-old Jacob’s birthday, and his friends from school are coming over for a party. Ian, the family patriarch and ward bishop, is on his way out the door to tend to a chronically-needy ward member. This makes the morning more stressful for Claire, his wife, who feels the burden of her husband’s calling and struggles to meet cultural pressures that ask her “to make a willing sacrifice” of his presence (28). Ian, after all, is the kind of bishop who can’t refuse a petitioner. Although he has difficulty discerning the Spirit in his work, he tries to do everything by the book—literally, the Handbook of Instructions—and be there for people as “Jesus would do if he were here” (44). Unfortunately, that often means not being there for his own family, which frustrates Claire, a convert, who tends to be less rigid in her Mormon practice and belief.
Rounding out the Bradley family are their four children—Zippy, Alma, Jacob, and Issy—each named for characters in scripture.[i] Zippy, a teenager, is adrift in a sea of kitschy chastity object lessons and tactless admonitions to dress modestly. Alma, a deacon, is a rebel who would rather play soccer than pass the sacrament. Jacob, the seven-year-old, is a firm believer in the mystical world of the primary manual. And Issy, the youngest daughter, is the object of everyone’s love. She is the glue the holds them together.