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The Fortune of Carmen Navarro by Jen Bryant
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The Fortune of Carmen Navarro

by Jen Bryant

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The Fortune of Carmen Navarro was a good read, but I definitely felt like there was something missing. I read this book in two days, because I was just waiting to find out that Carmen was a gypsy with a supernatural power of seduction or something like that! But, in the end that was not the case and it just fell flat for me. Don’t get me wrong though the storyline is actually very good and different, being that it is based on an opera. So, if you are looking for a supernatural twist, this is not the book for you.

I really loved that this book was written in the perspectives of four people: Carmen, Ryan, Will, and Maggie. This was great because I never got bored and I got to venture into each of their personal lives.

Carmen is a sexy and beautiful girl who is half-gypsy. According to her best friend and ‘sister’, Maggie, all the guys flock to her and she uses them for a short time and moves on. I actually liked Carmen and that may be because she’s full of life and likes to have fun.

Carmen has a band called The Gypsy Lovers. She gets all her ideas and writes her songs based on her relationships. When Ryan and Will, cadets from the near-by military academy, visit the Quikmart where Carmen works, she writes a song about Ryan.

Ryan is shy and cute and Carmen of course decides to reel him into her ‘web’. Ryan is a straight-A student that studies hard and when he feels so connected with her he wants to forget about school. Then there’s a twist, but I’m definitely not telling you what that is! I will tell you that Ryan loves Carmen and things get too serious, too quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but it was just a side read, not one to absorb all your attention! A good quick read. :) ( )
  thebookwormsorg | May 12, 2011 |
The Fortune of Carmen Navarro is influenced by the musical, Carmen. Jen Byrant had a few things in mind even before writing the book of how she wanted it to turn out, slightly spoilish: “(1) Carmen would remain a fiercely independent young woman; (2) that a soldier (or a cadet at a military school) would fall in love with her; (3) that his desire for her would consume him and bring about his downfall; and (4) that their relationship would end in violence” (Byrant 228).

However despite the onslaught of drama and feministic influences The Fortune of Carmen Navarro was short of being spectacular. Told through 4 different perspectives there still remains a lack of awareness in the character’s mind or behavior. Rather than a trajectory of movement as their thoughts would ramble on and off, there just seemed to be one or two main ideas lodged in each character. The novel is of moderate length, but once you split the book between 4 different people, it makes it so much smaller. The Fortune of Carmen Navarro needed to be more fleshed out.

Carmen is “a fiercely independent young woman” that we’re told is exotic, is beautiful and that despite dropping out of high school to work at the local Quikmart, is smart. She is ambitious. Carmen wants her name out there and her band to be in the biggest spotlight of all. But I found her highly unapproachable and unlikable. Carmen was very much, in my opinion, a difficult girl to befriend in real life: selfish, stubborn, headstrong, and so used to getting her way. Boys come and goes. Friends are very few and those few are mostly male.

Maggie is Carmen’s best friend and as close as not blood related sisters can be. It is uncommon for the secondary character to have their own role in novels, but Maggie does. Maggie wants to be a veterinarian (or as Maggie and Carmen say, an animal doctor); she’s smart, but very “plain” or so we’re told over and over again. Maggie lacks self-confidence and being around Carmen for so long can do that. Your best friend can get every guy she wants and you’re just her little brainy side-kick. Carmen is magnetic, charismatic, and a sight to behold. But still.

Ryan the cadet is just another puppy that has fallen under Carmen’s beauty and her voice. Byrant focuses solely on his shift from piqued interest to adoration to love to obsession—all in relation to Carmen. The transitions are smooth and the obsessive thoughts are spot-on. But I have so much trouble understanding why. Why does Ryan love Carmen so much even after the cold shoulder?

Will, Ryan’s close friend, is forgettable. His chapters only further showcase how Ryan is falling under the Carmen spell slowly but surely. Everything else didn’t have a point in the context of the plot.

The tension riding up to the ending was palpable. The climax was anticlimactic. All the ending proved was how much I disliked Carmen and how befuddled I was by Ryan’s actions. Was the Fortune of Carmen Navarro a twisted coming-of-age story? ( )
1 vote ylin.0621 | Dec 19, 2010 |
What would you do for love?

Carmen and Maggie are best friends, just like sisters in fact, and they both work at Quickmart, a convenience store in town. Will and Ryan are students at Valley Forge Military Academy; on a day pass from campus, they meet Carmen. Ryan, the shyer of the two cadets, is quickly smitten and soon he and Carmen are dating. Everyone agrees that the quiet, straight-laced guy on his way to West Point and the high school dropout, musician, gypsy girl make an odd pair. Carmen and Ryan's initial attraction quickly turns to passion, but at what cost?

The Fortune of Carmen Navarro was very different from what I was expecting. From the summary on the back of the ARC, I was expecting a wrong side of the tracks girl meets wealthy, cute but geeky soldier love story with maybe an unexpected ending. Instead, it turned a lot of YA cliches upside down and backwards. Inspired by the novella written by Prosper Merimee and the opera by Bizet, Bryant brings the story of Carmen to 2007 Pennsylvania. Told in 7 parts and from the perspectives of the two pairs of best friends (Carmen and Maggie and Ryan and Will) it chronicles the intense romance between Carmen and Ryan. Through Maggie and Will the reader gets all the background information - how Carmen came to live with her grandparents and why she's working at Quickmart, how Ryan got Will to attend Valley Forge Military Academy and how they became best friends as kids. The chapters are short and keep the action moving through out the entire book.

Maggie and Will's perspectives also show the affect the relationship has on both Carmen and Ryan and on how it changes Will and Ryan's friendship. Plus, the reader gets to see a lot of what happens from different perspectives, since most of the key moments are retold by more than one character. I'm usually not a fan of books told from so many perspectives, but it works really well for this story. I think that this is mainly because Ryan is so focused on Carmen that you don't learn that much about him from his chapters. So, it really takes the other characters to fill in all the blanks and connect all the dots. In fact, I actually liked Maggie and Will's chapters more than Ryan and Carmen's. The two of them just felt more relatable. And part of me thinks that if they really got a chance to meet and know each other, they would make an awesome couple.

Carmen and Ryan's relationship happens fast - it would have been even quicker if not for the fact that Ryan can only get off campus on the weekends - and soon it's obvious that Ryan cares more for Carmen than she does for him. The relationship pretty much takes over Ryan's life, while Carmen is hoping that it won't distract her from making music with her band, Gypsy Lovers. This is the opposite of many YA books where it's the girl who makes the romance the focus of her life. Again, I really like that the roles were reversed, that Carmen was super focused on her goals and wouldn't let anything get in the way of her dreams.

There were so many individual parts that I loved about this story - Maggie and Carmen's friendship, Will's commitment to Ryan, Maggie as a character - but, they just didn't fit together in a way that made me absolutely love the story. It felt like some pieces didn't fit in the bigger picture. Other times scenes that were told from multiple points of view felt fractured, like one piece was mentioned by one person, another perspective focused on a different piece of what happened and so on. I had to go back and reread a few scenes several times really understand what happened. I was ready to give up, but the book is such a quick read that I found myself close to the end and had to find out how Ms Bryant ended Carmen and Ryan's story. Here's the funny thing, Part 7 was my favorite part of the whole book! It takes place 3 months after the end of Part 6 and works as an epliogue in a way. It let the reader know just enough about what came next, but didn't give everything away.

So, in the end, I have mixed feelings about The Fortune of Carmen Navarro. But, I can see what other readers might love about it. A definite recommendation to those who love retellings or the opera version of Carmen. ( )
  librarianm | Nov 18, 2010 |
i read this as a book report because i thought it has a great plot. boy loves girl. boy cant have her. boy goes crazy. haha even thought this wasn't a very original plot, i seemed to like it very much, especially the alternative narration between the 4 characters.
Not one of the best books i've ever read, and it's not beautifuly written but i definitly enjoyed most of it. ( )
  primaaa | Nov 13, 2010 |
Richie's Picks: THE FORTUNE OF CARMEN NAVARRO by Jen Bryant, Knopf, October 2010, 240p., ISBN: 978-0-375-85759-1

"Love lost, such a cost..."
-- Neil Young

"You see this little notebook here, the one with coffee stains and the red ribbon to mark my place? I bring it with me to work and keep it below the counter. Whenever I get a break, I write down a few lines -- maybe something one of the soccer mommies said, or some detail about a rich guy's tie, or maybe the look on that shy cadet's face when his friend asks me for cigarettes.
"Then at home again, when mis abuelos are asleep in their bed, I drink a mug of strong coffee and slip into the basement with my guitar. I sit on the old green couch and I try to remember my mother's voice. Abuelita, she does not talk about my mother, but one time she says, 'Your mother had a beautiful voice and she would sing like a bird when she was happy.' So I remember this -- and I use it. My only connection to her. I think about my mother's voice and I strum a few chords. I read over the pages in my notebook. I sing the lines I have written, then I switch them around. I listen for a melody, for something that makes a good refrain. Sometimes I am there for two, three, four hours and nothing good happens. I play more chords, I try this melody and that one. I try again. Nothing.
"But sometimes I can spin a whole song from one little thing and then when I find just the right rhythm, just the right notes -- aah! It's like when you are playing poker and the dealer hands you a royal flush, or when you are walking home and you smell the wind and you know that it will rain hard in exactly two minutes and you run inside just in time.
"It is like offering a flower to a shy boy and knowing for certain that he will think of you day and night until he sees you again. It is a gift. A power like magic -- Gypsy magic.
"I have it."

The other day, I drove a couple of hours southward to booktalk to classes of middle school students who were barely born when the first Harry Potter book was published here; who were so young as to have been barely aware of the Clinton presidency or 9/11 when these events were actually taking place; and who are young people growing up having never known a world without Google.

In the course of booktalking the fiction, nonfiction and picturebooks for older readers to which I was introducing these students, I reminisced to them about my own pre-Title IX years in middle- and high school; and told them about being a young reader viewing columns of job ads in Newsday back when there was a section for men's positions and a section for women's positions. I spoke about growing up in an era when there had never been a woman on the US Supreme Court and how the coolest girl I knew in high school -- a brilliant young woman who, like me, eventually became a college instructor -- was advised by her high school guidance counselor that she should be applying to two-year rather than four-year colleges.

Here in the Twenty-first century, gender inequity in America is not anywhere near as outrageous as it was during my own adolescence. On the other hand, corporate interests continue to trailblaze new lows in their never-ending quest to persuade teenage girls that what is most important in life has to do with looks and boys and product consumption. In light of such a world, I find so much to recommend about Carman Navarro and her determination to succeed.

Based loosely upon the famous opera and novella Carmen, THE FORTUNE OF CARMAN NAVARRO is narrated by two pairs of best friends. Ryan, the younger sibling in a career military family, and his life-long best friend, Will, room together at the Valley Forge Military Academy. Maggie, who is a high school vocational tech student, and her life-long best friend Carmen, who dropped out at sixteen, live across the street from one another and work together at a nearby convenience store.

The story's central conflict involves Ryan's increasingly out-of-control obsession with possessing the stunningly beautiful Carmen, and Carmen's determination to not be deterred by any boy's longings in her quest to become a famous singer. Sure, she enjoys the attention of guys, and is intrigued by the quiet young cadet who becomes inspiration for her songwriting. But Carmen also so clearly informs Ryan about her priorities.

Unfortunately Ryan is running his own script in his head -- as he lets the rest of his life fall apart -- and so does not hear what Carmen is so clearly telling him.

Fortunately, author Jen Bryant foregoes any temptation to over-sensationalize the story by having the main character die (as happens in the opera). Instead of tragedy, this Carmen will live to continue on her path toward achieving what is most important to her.

What also contributes so significantly to the strength of this story are the voices of the other two friends/narrators. We learn so much about Carman and Ryan through watching and listening to Maggie and Will, their respective best and oldest friends.

While others may characterize THE FORTUNE OF OF CARMEN NAVARRO as a tale of tragic love, I cannot help but see it, instead, as the triumph of a girl with guts who is making her way on her own terms.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EcolIt/
http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books. You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received. Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries. ( )
  richiespicks | Oct 31, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375857591, Hardcover)

Carmen Navarro rings up customers at the Quikmart, bored to tears. It’s a job, and she needs it. But Carmen’s true love is music: she dropped out of high school to sing with the Gypsy Lovers and land a recording contract, someday.

Just a few miles away, Ryan Sweeney hunches over his books, a studious cadet with his eye on West Point. There’s not a single girl at the Valley Forge Military Academy, and that’s fine by him.

But when Ryan, on a day pass from campus, spots Carmen, with her shining black hair and snake tattoo, his pulse quickens. Carmen, who normally rolls her eyes at the stiff Academy soldados, can tell this one is different. She slips him a note: “Come hear my band.” A romance begins, unlikely, passionate . . . and quickly imbalanced. In an enthralling narrative of obsessive love, the novel builds to a stunning close.

Inspired by the novella and opera Carmen, Jen Bryant creates a strong-minded and alluring heroine in this contemporary tale of tragic love.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this modern-day resetting of the story on which the opera, Carmen, was based, four teens tell of half-gypsy Carmen, who believes she will become a famous singer, military cadet Ryan's passion for her, and their best friends' efforts to protect them both.… (more)

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