Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Crossing the Tracks

Author: Barbara Stuber

Published: July 6th, 2o10

Number of Pages: 272

Rating: 3/5

Quote:

Read this excerpt as opposed to a quote. It really got me interested in the book.

Synopsis:

At fifteen, Iris is a hobo of sorts – no home, no family, no plan. After her mother’s early death, Iris’s father focuses on big plans for his new shoe stores and his latest girlfriend, and has no time for his daughter. Unbeknownst to her, he hires Iris out as housekeeper and companion for a country doctor’s elderly mother. Suddenly Iris is alone, stuck in gritty rural Missouri, too far from her only friend Leroy and too close to a tenant farmer Cecil Deets, who menaces the neighbors, and Iris suspects, his own daughter.

Iris is buoyed by the warmth and understanding the doctor and his mother show her, but just as she starts to break out of her shell tragedy strikes. Iris must find the guts and cunning to take aim at the devil incarnate and discover if she is really as helpless, hopeless, and homeless – as she once believed.

Review:

I can’t remember how I heard about Crossing the Tracks, but for whatever reason, I looked up Barbara Stuber’s website and read the excerpt. I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and Barbara was kind enough to send me a hardcover copy the second it was published. It took me terribly long to get to reading it, as I’ve been on family vacations, to camps, and have had had ARCs to review since then. I’m very happy I finally read this book!

One of the things I always want to hear about first in reviews is the main character, so I must say: Iris is really fun to “live in.” She was smart, sensitive, and I loved that she was often surprising herself. I could always sympathize with her, and there’s a particular scene near the beginning of the book that made me ache to help her. She was never irritating, and I think a lot of that had to do with one thing: She’s kind. A lot of everything has to do with whether or not someone is kind, and the entire book was better off because of it.

I think there was a lot to love about almost every character, excepting the characters we really weren’t meant to love – namely Cecil Deets. However, I did find that my first impression of him wasn’t the same as Iris’s. She seemed to think he was no-good from the start, and I really didn’t get that feeling. I’m actually usually good at detecting things of that sort, but I think that he was a bit too vague to begin with. As the story developed, I could join Iris in her increasingly low opinion of him. He’s not the sort of person you respect, and that did come across eventually, just not as quickly as it seemed to for the characters.

Dr. Nesbitt is a character I think people will like immediately, and his mother, Mrs. Nesbitt, is the sort of elderly woman we all like reading about – the slightly spunky kind. She’s opinionated, witty, and surprising. It’s apparent from the start that Dr. and Mrs. Nesbitt are going to greatly affect Iris.

And those of you who are reading this and despairing because I haven’t mentioned romance, you need not worry. Leroy is here to save the day. Though the love story is definitely a subplot, it seemed to me that it played a large role in the character development – or Leroy did, at least. I’m fairly sure that everyone will like him and want to see more of him. At times, I thought things he did were… a little over-the-top, but overall, he was a likable character and a fantastic friend.

But, on the subject of things being over-the-top: The plot kind of struck me as contrived at times. It wasn’t necessarily the idea. I understood it, thought the idea interesting (though disturbing), and I enjoyed reading about it. However, some of the time, things played out in a way I thought a tad unrealistic or simply unlikely. Now, that doesn’t make for a bad reading experience, of course, and I still liked the book.

The novel deals with a few disturbing topics, such as physical and sexual abuse. I think Stuber did a great job making me feel greatly for the characters, but never uncomfortable. This book will strike you at times, but it’s heartening and sweet, in the end.

The prose was beautiful, and the thoughts portrayed so intricately, the messages astute and understandable. I loved the silent times, when I was in the midst of Iris’s mind.

I’d recommend the book to book clubs especially because I think many interesting conversations could sprout from the various topics. I can easily see a lot of people enjoying Iris’s story, her voice, and rooting her on. Barbara Stuber’s debut novel surprised me, and I’m eager to see what she’ll write next.

Overall, Crossing the Tracks is a fascinating book about justice, family, and love – about being needed, belonging, and having people to live for.

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