Author: Steve Watkins
Published: April 12, 2011
Genre: Realistic YA Fiction
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Description from Goodreads:
After her veterinarian dad dies, sixteen-year-old Iris Wight must leave her beloved Maine to live on a North Carolina farm with her hardbitten aunt and a cousin she barely knows. Iris, a vegetarian and animal lover, immediately clashes with Aunt Sue, who mistreats the livestock, spends Iris’s small inheritance, and thinks nothing of striking Iris for the smallest offense. Things come to a head when Iris sets two young goats free to save them from slaughter, and an enraged Aunt Sue orders her brutish son, Book, to beat Iris senseless - a horrific act that lands Book and his mother in jail. Sent to live with an offbeat foster family and their "dooking" ferrets, Iris must find a way to take care of the animals back at the farm, even if it means confronting Aunt Sue. Powerful and deeply moving, this compelling novel affirms the redemptive power of animals and the resilience of the human spirit.
Iris Wight doesn't remember much about her mother, she left when Iris was five years old and never returned. Now Iris is sixteen and she has just buried her father. The friends who promised her father they would care for her are having marital issues and can no longer keep their promise. She is forced to leave Maine and move to a farm in North Carolina to live with her Aunt Sue who she met once 14 years earlier. It soon becomes clear that the only reason her aunt agreed to take her was the money in her father's estate. Her life is lonely and difficult and the only comfort she finds is in the animals on the farm. But when Aunt Sue decides to slaughter her favorite goats Iris rebels and tries to save them. This results in an assault that lands Iris in the hospital and Aunt Sue and her son in jail. Iris is moved to a foster home and has to leave her beloved animals behind. Watkins has produced a touching novel about a strong, determined young woman who has been abandoned by those she loves for most of her life. Her response is to withdraw and try to do things on her own. But as the book progresses she realizes that she cannot accomplish her goal of keeping the animals safe all alone. She slowly opens up to the people around her, and even develops a relationship with a classmate who is dealing with his own loss.
This is one of the most heartbreaking novels I have read in a long time. This is not an action packed read, but rather a character driven story that was a delight to read. The main character, Iris, is a real teen who has had more hardship than should be allowed but her strength and determination shine through to allow her to remain strong and likable. She has abandonment woven into her life. It started with her mother leaving, continued with her father's sudden death and was seen in her friend's inability to keep their promise. When she is faced with the dilemma of having to leave her beloved animals when she was placed in foster care she could not abandon them as others have done to her, no matter what the cost.
The secondary characters are just as memorable. From the Buddha looking school counselor who preferred to sit on the floor instead of behind a desk to the quirky, ferret loving foster parents, I was drawn to each one and would be glad to have people like them in my life. Watkins even made the animals within the novel come to life, each one with a unique personality, making me feel just as invested in their safety as Iris was.
The violence Iris experienced at the hands of Aunt Sue and her son was shocking and as a mother I wanted to jump in and give her she the comfort she desperately needed. When they were put in jail for their actions the school bullies stepped in and continued to harass Iris. How she dealt with these issues was remarkable, making her a memorable character.
On the surface this could be seen as a simple story about a girl who loves animals and tries to do what is right for them. But it is so much more. It is a wonderful tale about loss, grief and triumph over adversity. It teaches us that while everyone faces challenges in life, it is the way we decide to deal with them that dictates who we will become.
Rating: An excellent book with life lessons and memorable characters
Author: Steve Watkins