“Caraval” is a wild night at the circus

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By: McKenna Graham, Assistant Arts & Life Editor

Title: “Caraval”
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Suspense/Thriller
Rating: Four stars
Warnings: Physical abuse, suicide

“Caraval” is the newest Young Adult fantasy to take our generation of the literary world by storm, so it’s only natural that I wanted to see what it was like for myself. It’s highly regarded as a fantastic story with beautiful characters, artistic writing and a page-turning plot. I picked it up with high expectations.

For a YA book, it was everything it should’ve been and more. It was a flawless rendition of everything the genre holds in high esteem — young and naïve girl is forced out of her comfort zone by extenuating circumstances and is aided by an equally gorgeous and dangerous boy in her efforts to right the world. More specifically:

Scarlett Dragna has lived with her sister, Donatella, on a tiny island governed by her abusive father for her whole life. For years now, she’s written to an enigmatic and almost mythical ringmaster named Legend, who runs an annual performance of magic on a mysterious island, begging him for tickets to see the players of his performance/game.

Seven years after she begins writing to him, he replies. Scarlett is now engaged to be married to a man she’s never met and plans to marry him only to keep herself and her younger sister safe from their father, but Caraval Master Legend has other things in mind for them. He sends Scarlett three tickets to the performance — one for her, one for her fiancé and one for her sister.

Shenanigans ensue, and, when the dust clears, Scarlett is on the isle of Caraval with a guy named Julian. Donatella has disappeared, and Scarlett has no choice but to play Legend’s game in order to get her back. She is repeatedly warned that nothing is ever as it seems on the isle, and that everything is just a game no matter how serious things may appear.

Yet as Scarlett gets deeper into the world of Caraval, evidence stacks up that would suggest otherwise. She struggles to overcome her innocence and her values, and her character development is great. She’s one of the few YA protagonists I didn’t hate for the entire book, because she stops whining, stops doubting, and actually grows into a strong and respectable human being.

“Caraval” is the pinnacle of YA fantasy because it hits every mark, checks every box,and crosses every ‘t’ that it comes across: growth of protagonist, thrilling and original circumstances, solid world-building and, last but never least, a dark but irresistible love interest.

I wanted to give it five stars because it is everything the Young Adult genre markets itself as. If you like YA fantasy, you’ll love this book – it has mystery, magic, drama and just enough romance to keep you attached.

But was it memorable for me? Not really.

To be perfectly sincere, reading “Caraval” just makes me want to reread a truly fantastic and beautiful magic-circus story, Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” It’s a bit less juvenile, a bit more magical, and it actually connects with me on an emotional level. Reading “Caraval” is like watching something happen, but reading “The Night Circus” is like experiencing it for myself. “Caraval” came close, but it just didn’t stick with me.

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