Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Don't you love discovering a wonderful new author? I was so mesmerized by debut novelist Barbara Stuber's Crossing the Tracks that I just couldn't put it down, even when it was time for lunch, doing the laundry, or walking the dog. I fell in love with the main character, 15-year old Iris Baldwin; when the novel opens, it's 1926, and Iris' father, a shoe-store owner and widower who's soon to remarry, hires Iris out for the summer to be a companion to a country doctor's invalid mother in rural Missouri, far away from her only friend, Leroy. Iris, who narrates the novel, lost her mother when she was five, and isn't at all close to her father. He's going to Kansas City to open a new shoe store, and clearly doesn't want her along.
When Iris arrives at the Nesbitts, nothing is as she expects. Mrs. Nesbitt has fiery eyes, gold silk slippers, and a bamboo cane named Henry. Dr. Avery Nesbitt is as kind as can be, even saving an injured dog from the train tracks. Although Iris is wary of the Nesbitts' violent and abusive tenant farmer, Cecil Deets and his nasty 13-year old daughter, Dot, she begins to settle in to life at the Nesbitts, even helping Dr. Nesbitt out when he goes to deliver a neighbor's twins. The Nesbitts try to make her feel welcome and let her friend Leroy come to visit. During the course of the novel, their friendship develops in new and more romantic directions.
But suddenly tragedy strikes, and Iris' life is turned inside out. She is forced to confront the real meaning of family; is it the people related to you by blood, or the people who cherish and nurture you?
This tender, funny, and heartbreaking novel touches on many themes that will resonate with a teen audience: the meaning of home and family, love and loyalty, dealing with grief and loss, and facing domestic violence. Iris must deal with all these in the course of one summer. There is a suggestion of an incestuous relationship in the novel, although there are no graphic details, and because of that aspect I would recommend this book for middle school and above. There are several romantic scenes between Iris and Leroy, and these are also handled in a tasteful manner.
One part of this novel I particularly appreciated was how much the reader grows to care about not only our main character, Iris, but the minor characters as well, who are exceptionally well-drawn. We meet many of the people who populate the small town where the Nesbitts live, and come to know them well. These range from the adorable dog, Marie, to Mrs. Nesbitt and even the abusive Cecil Deets and his daughter.
Warning: have plenty of tissues on hand. This is a "3-hanky" read!
See the author's website for a book club guide, a book trailer, and an excerpt from the book.