I am a bit of a fan girl for Francisco X. Stork's books. His first novel, Marcelo in the Real World is one of my all time favorite books, and I realI am a bit of a fan girl for Francisco X. Stork's books. His first novel, Marcelo in the Real World is one of my all time favorite books, and I really enjoyed his second book, Summer of the Death Warriors . I found out about this book from Scholastic's Librarian Preview (http://www.scholastic.com/librarianpr...) and I was beyond excited to read it.
And it met my expectations -- and exceeded them.
Kate and Mary are two sisters living in El Paso. Since their mother was in an accident, they have grown apart, focused on caring for their mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state. When their father dies, leaving them alone to care for their mother and fend for themselves, the girls find themselves having to make tough decisions. Mary loves painting, but she feels that since Mother died she has lost the "light" that allows her to paint. Kate dreams of being a doctor and attending Stanford University, but she worries that she won't be able to go. As the girls contemplate these decisions, they are helped by a group of three young men. But the final, most important choice is hanging over their heads: what should they do about their mother? Should they let her go?
The first thing I want to note about the plot is the use of the mother being in a vegetative state. I have read several books about mothers being in very serious comas, ie it is not believed they will ever wake up, but none about people being in vegetative states. I thought that was an interesting perspective to bring, and I liked how Stork interwove questions about the girls' choices about their mother, and whether or not they should let her go and detach her from her feeding tube, or continue to care for her.
Also regarding the plot, for a while I was confused about the three romantic interests in the story: Marcos, Simon, and Andy. Marcos and Mary's relationship really was quite sweet, and they seemed to be a good couple. I was less sure about Simon and Andy, Kate's love interests. I didn't really understand what happened with Kate and the two boys at the end, since their relationships seemed to be really up in the air, but they did help move the plot along and force Kate to make hard -- albeit interesting -- choices.
A thing to note: the faith element in the story is very strong (the girls' father works at a church and one of Kate's love interests is her father's replacement after his death) so if you aren't interested in faith-based stories this probably isn't one for you.
The plot was interesting and very sweet, with enough twists and turns to keep me interested. I also very much enjoyed the girls' final choice about their mother and how they ended the novel.
The characters were interesting. Kate and Mary were both very unique and well rounded characters, with their own personalities, hopes, dreams, and questions about life and faith. I sympathized with both of them and understood their choices and longing, as well as their feelings towards both of their parents. The other characters were just as well rounded, including all three of the love interests. When Marcos was entered in to the story as "a bad boy" I was a little worried that the story would take a stereotypical route. But he turned out to be just as well rounded and interesting as the rest, with good dreams and initiative.
The writing is the one part where I struggled a bit and redacted half a star, and I think some others will do the same. Stork's writing is very easy to read and clear, but it's a bit stiff. Sometimes it was hard to read the sentences because they seemed to stiff and fake. It doesn't make for an easy reading experience. I understand the stylistic choice, since the girls talk like this (and, cleverly, Marcos talks to Mary about this) but it was hard to read. I think maybe the story could have been written in a less stiff way. Instead the book could have been written with the characters speaking in a stiff way and not the narrative itself. I know that I can't change the book, obviously, but I disliked that stylistic choice.
Overall, Irises is a great read for fans of Francisco X. Stork, fans of contemporary fiction, and fans of faith-based stories.
If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know that I usually start with a description at the beginning. This descriptionThis book was brilliant.
If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know that I usually start with a description at the beginning. This description usually explains how I came to read the book and what I thought about it in a few concise sentences. These introductions can be about a paragraph or two, and are usually longer than I'd like them to be.
But for How to Save a Life , I have nothing else to say. Besides the fact that this book was brilliant.
Seriously, I could end the review right here -- because "this book was brilliant" perfectly explains How to Save a Life . And I'm almost tempted to just end the review here, just tell everyone GO BUY THIS BOOK and post this review online.
But, no, I'll go ahead, fine, write a decent review where I critique -- no, gush about this book. Because, and I'm going to say it again, this book is brilliant.
The story switches back and forth between two perspectives: Mandy and Jill. Jill's father, who she was very close to, has recently died. Jill has fallen into a depressive state, becoming bitter and cruel to everyone around her. Jill's parents had been very into working with foster children, but their work was cut short by his death. Jill's mother, Robin, still desperately wants a baby, so she strikes an online agreement with Mandy, a nineteen-year-old pregnant girl. Mandy will live with Jill and her mother for the remainder of her pregnancy, and once the child is born Robin will adopt the child and Mandy will return to her hometown. Jill is strongly against the idea, thinking that her mother simply wants a baby to replace her deceased husband. Mandy, timid and afraid, is worried that her secrets will be unveiled and Robin will kick her out from their house. The two girls must try to work out their differences together, and try and understand their separate issues and problems.
This is by no means a plot driven novel. This book is all about the characters. But first, I will admit that I wasn't interested in reading a book about teen pregnancy. It seems a bit too....out there, gimmicky in almost a way. I for one hate teen pregnancy shows -- especially considering the fact that those girls get themselves in horrible relationships and lose their babies due to poor decisions -- and I was worried Zarr would make the pregnancy plot silly or stupid. But no. She did it in her brilliant way -- note that I overuse the word brilliant in this review -- and made the pregnancy storyline relatable, interesting, and realistic. And yes, the plot ends somewhat predictably, but does it matter? No. You really feel for the characters, you really want them to have their wonderful happy endings.There's really nothing else to say about the plot besides that; it was slow moving at times, yes, but it was very, very interesting and fascinating and a great look at teen pregnancy, its effects, and human emotions. From that descriptor -- pregnancy, effects, human emotions -- it could seem like a lot to fit in one novel, but Zarr makes it work perfectly.
The characters are really what made me love this book. Zarr allows you to see into both Jill and Mandy's heads, letting you see both of them and making you relate to both of them so, so much. You really feel their pain and forgiveness and really hope that everything will be okay, that everything will be alright in the end. That's the strength of this novel, allowing you to see and understand and feel so much for these girls. I really felt for both Jill and Mandy. They had such distinct voices -- Jill's hard and tough, Mandy's slightly naive and lost. I wanted them to have their happy endings, for everything to turn out okay. But all I could do was read, flip through the pages to an ending that I hoped for -- and loved. I loved all the characters, really; the slow burn of romance with Ravi and Dylan, both fully-fleshed out characters; Robin with her hopes and dreams and pains of her own; and even Jill's father, Mac, who is a major character as well. The characters were amazing, and I really felt their pain and needs and dreams.
Zarr's writing is gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I've said in other reviews before that I went through and read the cadence of the words, feeling every rhythmic beat and feeling in the word. I did the same here, for Zarr's writing. Her writing is simple but so evocative, and I loved the cadence of each and every word. I will definitely be adding the rest of her books to my to-read list. Brilliant.
So in a nutshell, I loved this poignant, brilliant book that reminds me why I love contemporary YA so much. If you like contemporary YA, or really just YA in general, you should read and savor this book. I will be seeking out Zarr's writing in the future.