From the prologue: Kate had finally agreed to pose under the willow tree.
From chapter one: Kate and her father sat in the shade of the willow tree, side by side in two wooden chairs. It was unusually hot for an April day in El Paso.
Kate and Mary are sisters. Kate, 18, dreams of being a doctor, dreams of going away to Stanford for her college education. Mary, 16, is an artist, an artist struggling to recapture her initial joy perhaps, but a very talented, very dedicated artist nonetheless. In the first chapter of Irises, both girls receive a bit of a shock: their father, a pastor, dies. Arguably he knew the end was near for he has a great heart-to-heart with his daughter, Kate, urging her to look to her soul, mend her faith, take care of the family, etc. He tells her: "Love makes everything that is heavy light" (4). Kate, of course, not realizing the gravity of the situation, perhaps just thinking that her oh-so-strict father is just in an odd mood, quickly leaves the house and goes to study with her boyfriend, Simon. It is Mary, ever-sacrificing Mary, who is left behind to care for their Mom, who is in a vegetative state going on two years now, who discovers that her Dad has died in his sleep. While the two sisters have an aunt who lives in California, both girls know that more than likely they'll be on their own. Aunt Julia isn't exactly the most-nurturing type, after all. And Kate and Aunt Julia are like oil and water. The girls are facing at least half-a-dozen BIG, BIG decisions. And coming to agreement may not be easy...
- Mary and Kate have very limited funds, in part because their father's insurance is being denied; the insurance company will not make good with his insurance policy after his death.
- Kate is having to make a decision about college; she's received a scholarship to Stanford, but taking it will mean leaving her mother and sister behind. Is it fair to leave the care and to some extent the expense of caring for a mother in a vegetative state to a sixteen year old girl? A job that is emotionally, psychologically, financially, physically challenging for anyone.
- Mary secretly wishes that there was a way for the family to stay together but she's afraid to disappoint Kate.
Irises is almost by necessity a serious-minded novel. It explores many questions while not necessarily giving ready-made answers to those questions. At least not ready-made-answers for every-single-person. What does it mean to be in a family? Who is in your family? Can you walk away from family without looking back? Is it right to ever turn your back on your family and put yourself first? What is love? How do you know you love someone? Does love always mean making sacrifices? Can you love someone and by your choices cause them hardship? Can you love someone and still love yourself more? By always putting yourself and your needs and wants first are you selfish? Is it always wrong to be selfish? What's the difference between being true to yourself and following your dreams and ambitions and being a horribly selfish self-centered person? Does being honest about how selfish you are help redeem your selfishness in any way? Does being selfish mean indulging your HUGE ego?
The rest of the review will be spoilerish, so I'll go ahead with...
- If you are a fan of Francisco X. Stork
- If you are looking for an art appreciation novel; Artistic Mary is a great narrator, and the way she uses art to help Marcus (her potential love-interest) is great.
- If you are looking for a YA novel that explores faith, hope, and belief
- If you are looking for a book that addresses the complexity of what it means to be sisters
- If you are looking for an issue book, a serious book; this one is about death, dying, grief, letting go, making sacrifices, reaching hard decisions, etc.
- If you're looking for books with a Texas (West Texas) setting.
If you read the book jacket, you'll learn that there are three men in the picture. Two relate to Kate, one to Mary. I definitely don't want to spoil the book for anyone, but, I have to talk about one of the men: Andy.
Reverend "Andy" Soto was certainly charismatic in an oddly appealing and equally revolting way. When readers first meet him, he seems very dynamic, very charismatic, very friendly, very much a good guy. And yet. And yet. His true nature is revealed through the course of the novel. And he's so very, very, very slimy. There are some warning signs we can pick up on as readers--or adult readers may pick up on--but it isn't surprising that Kate doesn't quite see him clearly.
Is he 100% evil? NO! That's NOT what I'm saying. Though his tact could use a LOT of work, (I hate to think what his bedside manner would be if visited the sick or dying or the family members of the sick or dying.) Some of his advice was actually good advice. Some of what he had to say needed to be said...by someone, by anyone.
I definitely found his EGO to be revolting. He was young, just twenty-two, and ambitious and selfish, and all ME, ME, ME, I LOVE MYSELF. And the way he behaved with Kate, well, it was a bit shocking or surprising. You would think that he'd learn somewhere along the way that inviting an eighteen year old girl, a member of your congregation, into his apartment to spend the night even if it was just "talking" or mainly talking...after his advances were halted...by her...with an apology for sending mixed signals. I do think he plays an extraordinary part in the novel. Mainly by mirroring to Kate the extremities of selfish ambition and pride and ego. His "you should totally do this without feeling guilt in any way whatsoever" attitude actually was a BIG, BIG wake-up call to Kate. I just LOVED her confrontation with him!!!! I was cheering her on!!!! Tell him, tell him, TELL HIM!
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews