After Iris by Natasha Farrant. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013. Currently Available.
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Face Value: Designers take notes. This is what a middle grade cover should look like. It’s age appropriate, but it’s also cool and contemporary looking. It gives a perfect glimpse into what the story is without giving too much away.
Does it Break the Slate? Absolutely. Blue is one of the Slatebreakers I tend to identify with most – hiding in the background until she needs to stand up for herself. I loved watching her figure out her identity in a world without Iris. And I loved the many Slatebreakers at work in the background of this book.
Who would we give it to? LOTS of people. This book is funny and sad and incredibly smart. Blue’s filmmaker aspirations, her sense of humor and her astute observations about her family will resonate with a lot of readers.
Review: I loved this book deeply. And it also made me crazy, but in a good way (mostly).
Blue Gadsby feels invisible. After her twin sister Iris died she’s felt empty, invisible, unnoticed. She records her surroundings with a video camera. These surroundings include:
- An older sister, Flora, who changes her hair color on a regular basis, aspires to be an actress and is deeply sarcastic.
- Two younger siblings, Jasmine and Twig who love their pet rats
- An au pair, Zoran, who has his own personal sadnesses but is committed to the Gadsby kids
- A mysterious and cute boy next door, Joss
- A no-nonsense Grandma obsessed wtih fresh air
These surroundings rarely include:
- ·The Gadsby parents, because they are too busy dealing with their own problems to be present in the lives of their children.
Structurally the book consists of both epistolary narrative, diary style, and descriptions of film shots Blue takes with her camera. It works really well, giving it both a very close first person narrative and a slightly distanced observer perspective. It nicely establishes Blue as both the observer of her family and gives us insight into her emotional world.
There’s so much great character development in this book, I can hardly begin to talk about it all. Blue is outstanding – I loved her so much, and loved seeing her start to put her life back together and find ways to be happy. I loved her crushes and her friendships and her flaws. Her siblings are all unique and well-developed and could easily be the protagonists of their own stories. Ex-best friend Dodi turns out to be hardly the villain we thought she was, despite some unkind actions. Joss of course, disappoints, but his character is utterly believable in all of his wonderful and terrible ways. And Zoran is a complicated human who turns out to be exactly who Blue needs without ever reading as a magical Mary Poppins type caretaker.
Let’s talk about the parents. They are terrible parents. Really bad. Infuriating. The loss they have been through is unimaginable, sure, as a non-parent I cannot imagine the heartbreak of losing your daughter. But there is absolutely no excuse for essentially abandoning your other four children. Mr. Gadsby commutes to a job and only returns for the occasional weekend and Mrs. Gadsby is constantly traveling. As they avoid each other and their sadness, their children suffer. While they definitely get called out on their actions, I don’t think the eleventh-hour reveal of what Mr. Gadsby was so consumed with is actually an excusable reason.
Even so, by the end of the book, I really believed that the Gadsby’s would eventually be ok. This complicated family story is an outstanding character portrait and a wonderfully written book. I’m eager to read more of Natasha Farrant’s work.
Reviewed from library copy