Sunday, June 8, 2014

After Iris

After Iris
Natasha Farrant
Penguin, 2013 260 pgs
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Twelve-year-old Bluebell (Blue) Gatsby hides behind her video camera, recording her family and life around her as a way of coping since twin sister, Iris, died in a tragic accident three years prior.  Her London family members are all still reacting to Iris's death in different ways.  Her teenage sister is acting out, her mother takes on a new job sending her abroad most of the time, dad becomes a work-a-holic retreating to the college town he works from, and her two younger siblings demand much needed attention.  Help comes in the form of a male Bosnian au pair named Zoran, who has family sadness of his own.  A first crush on the boy next door leads to heartbreak, as he starts dating Blue's teen sister.  Blue's isolation comes to a head and then she falls back into friendship with her best friend pre-Iris's death, who she'd been avoiding.  Next comes a new friendship and hobby with a skateboarding boy from her class, leaving the reader with a hint of romance to come.  The family unit still looks hopeless, until through Zoran, Grandma, and a desperate plot of the younger sibs, they starts to heal and pull together.

After Iris has been sitting by my bed for a year.  I have been putting it off because I'm tired of the gluttony of books from the past couple of years for young people dealing with the loss of a loved one.  The book had great reviews and, being a bit of an anglophile, I finally went for it.  Once I started the book, it was impossible to put down.  Yes, Blue is a very sad character and lots of bad stuff happens to this family.  There were many times I wanted to jump into the pages of the book and shake the mother demanding that she start paying attention to her living children and start family therapy.  That said, there was humor to the book, a moving plot, and surprises.  I love it when a book surprises me.  All the characters were well developed, flawed and lovable.  The family was so broken I really felt that the situation was hopeless.  In the last ten pages Farrant "fixes" everything and all ends functional and happy.  This is a bit too tidy and unrealistic, although the ending will be appreciated by young readers who like things neatly tied up.  I do like that the family begins to heal when Zoran plays the piano, emphasizing the healing power of music.  This book will appeal to girls more than boys.  Although its British, the plot points are universal and those new to British culture will not get tripped up.  Even with its serious subject matter, After Iris is great fun.  It may encourage young people to pick up a video camera to start recording a video diary of their own.

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