The Fortune of Carmen Navarro by Jen Bryant

The Fortune of Carmen Navarro by Jen Bryant is a retelling of Carmen, best know for its gorgeous opera adaptation.  I admit that my familiarity with the story is only surface-deep, so I was not sure what to expect when I picked this one up.  However, I was not disappointed!

Carmen Navarro is a high school dropout.  She works at a convenience store with her best friend and plays in a band at night.  But Carmen isn’t your typical “loser” dropout.  First of all, she is extremely talented in the musical department.  She writes songs, and her voice is like honey.  Her band, Gypsy Lovers, actually has a good chance of being discovered one of these days and she focuses all her energy on her music. Music is her passion.

Carmen is also gorgeous. As in, stops-traffic-guys-can’t-look-away-stunning beauty.  And her magnetic personality charms them even more.  Carmen doesn’t even have to try and every guy she meets is falling all over themselves to be her boyfriend.  But the relationships never last very long. They are minor dalliances on the road to fulfilling her musical passion.

When Ryan Sweeney, a cadet at the local military academy,  comes into the convenience one day for lunch with his friend Will, he is immediately smitten with Carmen. When she deigns to flirt with him, he is on cloud nine.  Suddenly, the perfect student and perfect cadet is thrown off-course.  He skips assignments, messes up his cadet squad leader duties. You know- all the symptoms of a guy in love and lust.

But this doesn’t work for Carmen.  While Ryan is cute and sweet, he starts interfering with her life.  The Gypsy Lovers have a chance at a record deal and Ryan is all.over.her. He constantly texts, calls, texts again, calls her best friend, and shows up at her job.  This is not how Carmen operates. So she tells Ryan it’s over. And that’s when the real problems start.

This is a fantastic retelling of a story that a lot of teens are not familiar with.  However, the story will seem familiar because Carmen describes a lot of over-the-top teenage whirlwind romances.  And the story is told in four viewpoints- brilliantly, I might add- so the reader doesn’t know who to support.  At the end of the book, I could agree with each character, even through I did not like the choices they might have made.  I especially love love love Carmen.  She is gutsy, not afraid to go after her dreams, and the ultimate feminist teenage girl (at least in my mind).  I know a few teen girls who would do well to emulate Carmen’s best traits!

Everything about this book is well-done.  And it’s a short book, which I love.  As a rabid reader, I love thick tomes. But they can be a turnoff for a lot of young readers.  Jen Bryant has masterfully recreated the magic of Carmen in a way that will attract middle school and high school readers.  I hope it will lead them to learn more about the classic novella and the opera, too.

Highly recommended.  (Middle school/YA)

*review copy courtesy of the publisher