In Francisco X. Stork’s young adult novel Irises (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), the Romero sisters lived a life so strict that one of them had never been to the mall. Their father, a pastor, “literally thought the devil was going to sneak in the house through the Internet cable.” No wonder that Kate, 18, dreams of escaping her hometown of El Paso for Stanford University, and Mary, 16, paints to escape her world.
But life soon changes for the sisters. Their father dies suddenly, leaving the young women to take care of their mother, who has been in a vegetative state for two years after a car accident. The sisters must decide how to take care of themselves financially, with their own personal dreams at stake.
As Kate thinks, “What she wanted most of all was a more meaningful life, a life where she was useful to others, a life that in her mind could only be obtained someplace other than El Paso.”
Stork’s writing is easy to read, but the book is startlingly different from many of the edgy young adult books that deal with romance or have paranormal or dystopian scenarios. The book has one mention of sex, and a mild one at that. But Irises – named for the flowers Mary likes to paint – is deeper, digging into themes of faith and the purpose of life.
The characters go to church to seek peace, not just to attend service. Characters discuss their faith. One chapter is devoted to a pastor’s sermon. And Stork writes this in a matter-of-act manner, avoiding overtly religious language that may turn some readers off.
When the sisters have to make tough decisions, they discuss what they want from life. “God wants us to live,” Kate says. “He wants to give us abundant life. He wants to give us light and He wants us to be a light unto others.”
Irises is a thoughtful book that will appeal to teenage girls – and, hopefully, a few adults as well.
• Stork, who was born in Mexico and grew up in El Paso, is best known for his books Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. He studied literature under Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz at Harvard and earned a law degree. He works as an attorney in Boston.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.