Narvla’s Celtic New Year
About This Book
Narvla’s life is as precisely choreographed as the routines that have made her a national step-dancing champion. She has a loyal best friend, a devoted boyfriend, and a lock on admission to her dream college, the University of Notre Dame. Until her mother is named U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, and her life unravels. First Narvla receives a disturbing picture of her boyfriend and her best friend. Then she struggles to qualify for the Irish elite step-dancing squad, and her grades plummet. But the biggest obstacle in Narvla’s new life is Dublin Boy, a cheeky musician with a disdain for academics and a distrust of Americans. Although Narvla is upset when she’s paired with Dublin Boy for the most important semester of her life, her real concern is the growing attraction she feels toward him. As the Celtic New Year unfolds, Narvla is pushed to abandon her lifelong need for control and embrace the charm of the unexpected.
I was intrigued by the premise of Narvla’s Celtic New Year, but I’m always a bit wary of self-published novels, as in my experience so many of them have been woefully inferior in terms of writing technique and solid, storytelling craft. But on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by and enjoyed this story.
Gilardi displayed a solid grasp of the writing craft, though there is room for improvement. There was a good balance between prose and dialogue, and I never felt bogged down by excessive descriptions. While first-person pretense is not my preferred point-of-view, it works well in the Young Adult genre and in this story. Narvla had a strong, independent voice which allowed me to really connect with her, and also expressed an age-appropriate “attitude” for her as a teenager. On the whole, she was a likeable heroine, and while she didn’t always make smart choices, she was smart enough to ask for help and accept it when she needed to. I also appreciated that the adults in the book weren’t portrayed as brainless oafs. Most of the secondary characters were very well crafted and enriched the story, but there were a few whose motivations weren’t properly fleshed out (a couple of Narvla’s Irish step dancers), and one, Dublin Boy’s young handicapped sister, who didn’t seem to fulfill any real purpose. Her subplot story line went nowhere and she just fell through the cracks, almost like the author forgot she was in the story.
A couple other story lines also seemed to go nowhere in the end, particularly the thread about Narvla joining the elite step-dancing squad. Once she makes the team, it’s never mentioned again, which felt odd to me considering it was one of the biggest conflicts of her story line. I would’ve liked to see some kind of final performance, some kind of resolution to this story thread, but unfortunately there wasn’t one.
On the whole, the story structure was good and well-paced, with scenes that flowed smoothly from one to the next . . . right up until the very end, when the crucial story climax hit—and then the author suddenly jumped to an epilogue. I really felt thrown off a cliff there, for after all the great tension that had been building to that point, I didn’t get to see the actual resolution in real-time. Instead, the story mysteriously (and a bit awkwardly—it wasn’t even clear at first that it had shifted to an epilogue) jumped ahead an entire year and recapped what had happened. I definitely felt cheated.
There is a bit of teenage love drama throughout the story, as Narvla must deal with a cheating boyfriend back home in America and her growing attraction to the school bad-boy. Some of the young people in Narvla’s circle of friends took their romantic relationships farther than I would recommend for young Christian readers, but the heroine Narvla wasn’t one of them. Other potentially questionable content includes mild language (mostly British/Irish swear words), under-age and excessive drinking (though cultural differences do have to be taken into consideration), subtle references to drug use, smoking (especially by Narvla’s mother), and some corporate corruption/scandal overshadowing Narvla’s father back home. But nothing felt too graphic or gratuitous, and for a secular/general market story, this book was surprisingly clean.
There is no overt spiritual message in this story, but themes of prejudice, self-confidence, and having the courage to pursue your dreams will resonate with readers of all ages. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to middle grade/tween readers; I’d say this story is more acceptable for young/new adult readers in high school and college. As a movie, I think this would be rated PG-13 for the drug and alcohol content.
Overall, Narvla’s Celtic New Year was a pleasant, escapist read; not one for my keeper shelf personally, but one I’m not sorry I read. I would be willing to try more stories by this author in the future.
Available April 3, 2015 from the author (self-published)