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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Fortune of Carmen Navarro, written by Jen Bryant. Knopf, Random House. 2010. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"In return for my good fortune,
in return for my blessings, in
return for the good show we
did tonight, I must be honest
with this boy, I must not let
him think that he owns my
heart. No. No one can own
Carmen's heart."

I don't know how many middle school and high school students will know Carmen's story from the famed opera, or from the classic novella of the same name. I am sure that reading this superb retelling of her story may find many drawn to what inspired Jen Bryant to write it.

Carmen is a high school dropout with a passion for music. She writes songs for her band, plays guitar and wants more than anything to get a recording contract and a tour. She lives with her grandparents, wanting a better life for them. Her best friend Maggie works at the same convenience store. Carmen is a beauty, oozing charm and a zest for life. Maggie always has her back, honoring her dreams and supporting Carmen in her music. They are two sides of a coin.

Carmen has a transcendent beauty and charm that attracts many suitors. Young men are immediately attracted to her and that leads to short romances that mean little, as she seeks fame and fortune through her music. Ryan Sweeney is no exception. He is a young cadet from the nearby naval academy; shy, studious and reserved. His meeting with Carmen is providential for him. He immediately falls under her spell. His obsession brings much change to his previously perfect student record. He begins to fail courses, turns away from his friend Will and exhibits indifference to anything but Carmen.

Carmen is very much her own person. When Ryan begins interfering with the way she lives her life, and even offers a ring, she decides to end the budding relationship. Ryan is devastated. His reaction is worrisome to Will, and to Maggie.  His irrational preoccupation with 'the girl of his dreams' leads him to take dramatic action, with heartbreaking and, in time, hopeful results.

Told from four viewpoints - Carmen, Maggie, Will and Ryan - Jen Bryant tells a powerful story of love and obsession. Carmen is obsessed with her love of music and her need to make it her life. Maggie is studious, loves her friend and wants her to have that life. Ryan can only see Carmen in his future. Will wants to be a good friend, support Ryan and make his year at the academy. Their voices are clear, authentic and eloquent. It's tough not to love each one of them...for obviously different reasons.

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