Book Reviews: Irises by Francisco X. Stork and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

IrisesIrises
Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-15135-1
Hardcover

Some people are raised to believe that all matters are black and white.  This is good, that is bad.  This is acceptable, that is not.  Someone is either alive, or he is dead. From the outside looking in, this may appear to be oppressive.  On the other hand, these people already have all of the answers, they know what they can do, and what they cannot—it is that simple.  Until it isn’t.

Kate and Mary are sisters, raised by a very strict Protestant Reverend and his dutiful wife.  In their mother, they found joy.  Kate and her mother shared a special, secret dream.  Together, they talked of Kate attending Stanford and becoming a doctor.  Mary also shared her dream with her mother, only it was no secret.  Mary is an extraordinary artist, particularly for her young age.  She sees a light around people and is able to subtly work that into her paintings.  Mother is proud of Mary and she enthusiastically supports her younger daughter.  Father thinks painting is a waste of time and he simply assumes that Kate will follow his plan; stay active in church, get married and raise a family. So, for a while, Kate and Mary have the simplicity of knowing what is acceptable and what is not and they experience joy and fantasies with their mother.

A terrible accident leaves their mom in a vegetative state with only a part-time nurse to help the girls care for her needs.  Poor health has father meeting his maker while sixteen year old Mary sits by his side.  Two years her senior, Mary looks to Kate to figure out how they will get by.  Their house belongs to the church, Kate has Stanford waiting and Mary is too young to be on her own; but finding someone to take her and her mother in seems impossible.

Mr. Stork masterfully captures the stoicism and detachment that, at first, encompass the household.  By sprinkling in bits of family history, he coaxes empathy from the reader.  The girls’ characters develop as they struggle to leave the confines of their black and white world and make decisions they’ve never imagined. Kate’s use of her newfound freedom may amplify their troubles.  The choices they are faced with could bring them closer, or forever rip them apart.

I found this story to be enlightening and compelling.  I will certainly pick up another Francisco X. Stork book.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2013.

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Revenge of the Girl with the Great PersonalityRevenge of the Girl With the Great Personality
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point/Scholastic, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-47699-7
Hardcover

Yes.  The book is as good as the title.  I love a story of self-discovery and acceptance through trial and error.  Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality centers around that theme, but is so much more.

Lexi is an almost-typical teen living with an atypical family.  Her narcissistic, unhappy mother that tries valiantly to live vicariously through her youngest daughter is easy to despise, yet somehow, manages to elicit a bit of empathy here and there.  The young sister appears as a despicable, spoiled brat; but, there may be hope for her. One of Lexi’s best friends, Benny, steals the show.  The Beautiful People are well depicted, with each adding unique traits to enrich the story.

I found this book compelling.  I enjoyed the layers of Lexi: the “adult” and the big sister at home, the Great Personality at school and work.  Lexi hadn’t initiated a journey of self-discovery, which (to me) makes the tale so much cooler.  Her transformation is immediate and stunning.  Effects are varied, resulting in confusion, hurt feelings and lots of attention.  Fortunately, Lexi’s drastic change encourages her not only to truly examine herself, but to take a hard look at real friends versus Beautiful People.

I admire the way the author captured true teen personalities, without resorting to the use of crude and lazy conversations that I’ve come to expect from Middle School and High School students (Don’t misunderstand, I do love the crazy kids.)  Ms. Eulberg’s writing weaves in small details that enhance the story.  Benny’s t-shirts make me smile, and the chapter titles are hilarious.  I couldn’t wait to see if Lexi’s 180 became a 360, or if she could create a middle ground.  Rooting for her to summon the courage to speak her mind to those she finds oppressive, I forfeited sleep to see how her story would end.  I am not sorry for that, I liked everything about this book.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2013.