Irises by Francisco X. Stork
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic
Sisters Kate and Mary, ages eighteen and sixteen, were raised in a very strict household by their ultra-conservative pastor father. When their father suddenly passes away, the two of them must figure out a way to make it on their own, while taking care of their mother who is in a persistent vegetative state due to a car accident several years back. Kate, the elder of the two, knows this responsibility falls mainly on her shoulders, and while her boyfriend Simon has offered to marry her and provide a good life for herself and Mary, what Kate really wants is to go to Stanford and study medicine, which has always been her dream. Mary just wants to stay home with her paint and canvas and care for their mother for the rest of her life, but she needs to convince Kate to go along with that plan. And while Kate and Mary are trying to get this figured out, the new pastor at their father’s church, Andy, becomes somewhat involved with the situation and throws a wrench in any plans they could possibly come up with. These teenagers are forced to grow up much more quickly than they should, but will they make the right choices for themselves and what’s left of their family?
I’ve been meaning to read this book forever, since before it was released even. The reason being is that I LOVED Marcelo in the Real World and couldn’t wait to find out what Stork put out next. While I can’t say I feel as passionate about Irises as I did about my first experience with Stork’s work, I liked this novel quite a bit and Sork’s talent continues to shine in my eyes.
I love the unique premise of this novel and I think that Stork took it places that were both predictable and not so much. I definitely knew that the moral issue of what to do with the girls’ mother would come up, and I feel that Stork handled the issue with compassion, grace, and truthfulness. The way that Mary and Kate dealt with this question rang true to me and although the deciding process did feel a little rushed, I felt that their answers were authentic to what teenagers forced to grow up too fast might come up with.
I felt intense compassion for Kate, much more so than her sister Mary. Kate reminded me so much of myself when I was in high school. I wasn’t sheltered like she was, but like Kate, I had bigger dreams for myself than the expectations of my parents. I planned on attending college ever since elementary school, even though I knew my parents had no means to pay for such a huge expense, and I made sure throughout high school to work towards that goal (and of course, I did graduate college as I told myself I would). Kate also has big dreams – dreams her father wouldn’t ever have let her pursue. His death was both terribly sad to Kate but also strangely freeing, as it allowed her to make her own decisions for the first time in her life.
Mary was a more difficult character for me to understand and empathize with. Being the younger of the two siblings, she was even more protected from the harsh realities of this world, even more sheltered, even less understanding of what it meant for the two of them to have to make adult decisions. However, by the end of the novel she really came into her own and I definitely appreciated her personal growth throughout the book.
I really did like Irises even though it’s not my favorite Stork novel. The story is relatively unique, the characters will creep into your heart, and the resolution is the perfect mix of bitter and sweet. I can absolutely recommend the novel.