Thursday, November 21, 2013

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

It has been three years since Iris Gadsby's death and no one in the Gadsby family has really been able to come to grips with it.  Living in an old house in London, dad is away most of the time, teaching medieval courses at a distant university; mum has taken a job with a beauty products company and must fly all over the world; older sister Flora, 16, is totally involved with her boyfriend and continuously changing the color of her hair; younger siblings Jasmine and Twig, AKA the Babes, are obsessed with their pet rats, and Iris's twin Bluebelle, now 13, hides behind her lens of her new video camera.

Now, the Gadsby parents have hired a dissertating student named Zoran to look after the kids while they are gone, who takes his job very seriously, even if he doesn't always get the cooperation he wants.  Then, along comes Joss, who has been sent to live with his grandparents next door, and things really get crazy in the Gadsby household.  Joss may be Blue's crush, but he is Flora boyfriend obsession.

Communicating with their mother mostly on Skype, and seeing their dad only on weekends, and now only sometimes if then, the kids conclude that their parents are perhaps growing apart and thinking of divorce.  And then the Babes run away.

After Iris is one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a long time, and I have read a lot of really great novels lately.  The Gadsby children are great characters, all different, but all well fleshed out.  Flora is cool and has lots of friends, with the exception of Joss's friends who continually write terrible Facebook comments about her;  Blue is geeky and awkward and no longer has any friends as they have moved on to inhabit the junior version of Flora's world and Blue has chosen to become invisible; the Babes have each other and their rats.  At first, I thought they were twins as well, but Twig (the only boy) is the younger of the two.

Despite the seriousness of coming to terms with and beginning the real healing work that the death of a child/sibling involves, After Iris is not the morbid story it sounds like it should be.  Certainly not when the Babes rats drive into Blue's classroom, dressed and sitting in remote controlled cars.  Nor when they are sent off to visit Grandma's in Dorset, who has some wacky ideas of her own about children.  And there is a softer side of friend and enemy relationships that are more true to life than usually depicted in novels for middle graders.

The whole thing is narrated in the first person by Blue.  Some of the chapters begin with movie transcripts that describe what she is filming followed by diary entries that continue the filmed episode.  The transcripts move the story along more quickly that straight narrative.  And there is lots of humor and funny bits that keep you going in this well written novel, even as we watch compassionately when the family's coping strategies begin to fall away.

After Iris is definitely a novel about coming to terms with death, but it is also a novel about Blue's own personal process of coming of age, which involves but is not limited to learning to accept the death of her twin sister.

After Iris is a novel not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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