Irises

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"Every night, before Kate went to sleep, she poured rubbing alcohol on her palms and massaged Mama's legs so they would not atrophy. When she first started doing this, she kept expecting Mama to open her eyes, to sit up, to say thank you, hug her. But as time went on, the nightly hope gave way to a sense that the limbs she was touching were devoid of energy, that life would never come back to them.

"The bus passed a sign pointing toward Ascarate Park and she remembered suddenly her mother playing volleyball during a picnic game. It was a school outing, and Mother had volunteered to serve as a chaperone. The rest of the mothers sat together talking, but not Mama. She saw that players were needed for a volleyball game and she jumped in uninvited. Kate remembered her bare feet and how she ran to get the ball, laughing with all the joy of an eight-year-old lost at play.

"'Mama, we need to let you go,' she whispered. "But the thought that she wanted to let Mama go for her own convenience stuck in her head like a painful splinter she could not remove. She's no longer alive. Reverend Soto's words kept coming back to her. Andy's words. The images of her mother's limp legs as she massaged them and of her chasing a volleyball, full of life, whirled together in her head one after another. And she saw Andy's soft hands, his fiery eyes and thick black hair. She tried to shake the feelings that came with the thought of him, but then she remembered his sermon and the way he gave it, the emphasis he placed on certain words. This is crazy, Kate kept telling herself, hoping she could regain her senses. But it was no use. She felt like a rock hit by a sledgehammer and now there were pieces of her scattered all over the place."

Kate Romero is a gifted student and her younger sister Mary is a gifted painter. Their repressive but well-meaning father is the pastor of El Paso's Church of God.

Years ago, before the automobile accident that left Mama lying at home in a permanent vegetative state, Kate and Mama had traveled to northern California to visit Mama's sister, Aunt Julia. During that trip they also visited nearby Stanford University. Mama's hope for Kate was that after high school Kate would have the opportunity to study at the notable institution and fulfill her childhood dream of becoming an M.D.

Now, with Kate's dream possibly becoming real, their father dies suddenly and the girls are alone, needing to care for Mama, needing to soon move out of the church-owned parsonage, needing to figure out how to stay afloat.

In contrast to those breezy young adult romps about teens at home without parental supervision, IRISES is a dramatic home-alone story about love and dreams and reaching for one's real potential.

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During this time of crisis, Kate and Mary will each be affected by young men who come into their lives. For Kate, it is the handsome and ambitious young minister who is chosen to replace their father. For Mary, it is Marcos, a young gang member from school who has a kind heart and budding artistic talent.

It is the often laugh-out-loud interaction between Mary and Marcos that makes this book a winner for me. I would love to read a couple of hundred more pages so I could learn all about this young man and his challenging life.

Given the tenuous circumstances of Kate and Mary's situation, is it possible for each of the sisters to achieve their respective individual goals? How might faith, hope, and love help them solve their problems?

304 pages 978-0545151351 Ages 14 and up

Keywords: death and dying, parents, illness, coming of age, college, survival, sisters, choices, helping others, individuality, romance, faith, love, hope

Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California, USA

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TWO SISTERS: Kate is bound for Stanford and an M.D. -- if her family will let her go. Mary wants only to stay home and paint. When their loving but repressive father dies, they must figure out how to support themselves and their mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state, and how to get along in all their uneasy sisterhood.

THREE YOUNG MEN: Then three men sway their lives: Kate's boyfriend Simon offers to marry her, providing much-needed stability. Mary is drawn to Marcos, though she fears his violent past. And Andy tempts Kate with more than romance, recognizing her ambition because it matches his own.

ONE AGONIZING CHOICE: Kate and Mary each find new possibilities and darknesses in their sudden freedom. But it's Mama's life that might divide them for good -- the question of *if* she lives, and what's worth living for.

Irises is Francisco X. Stork's most provocative and courageous novel yet.--from the publisher

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