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Friday, March 9, 2012

Irises by Francisco X. Stork

Two sisters discover what's truly worth living for in the new novel by the author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD.TWO SISTERS: Kate is bound for Stanford and an M.D. -- if her family will let her go. Mary wants only to stay home and paint. When their loving but repressive father dies, they must figure out how to support themselves and their mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state, and how to get along in all their uneasy sisterhood.THREE YOUNG MEN: Then three men sway their lives: Kate's boyfriend Simon offers to marry her, providing much-needed stability. Mary is drawn to Marcos, though she fears his violent past. And Andy tempts Kate with more than romance, recognizing her ambition because it matches his own. ONE AGONIZING CHOICE: Kate and Mary each find new possibilities and darknesses in their sudden freedom. But it's Mama's life that might divide them for good -- the question of *if* she lives, and what's worth living for.IRISES is Francisco X. Stork's most provocative and courageous novel yet

 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 really enjoyed his second book, Summer of the Death Warriors . I found out about this book from Scholastic's Librarian Preview ( 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 anaccident, 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. 

Four point five stars. 

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