Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: Crossing The Tracks by Barbara Stuber


At fifteen, Iris is a hobo of sorts -- no home, no family, no direction. 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—or as hopeless—as she once believed.

Lyrical, yet humorous, Barbara Stuber’s debut novel is the unforgettable story of a girl who struggles to cast aside her long-standing grief and doubt and, in the span of one dusty summer, learn to trust, hope, and—ultimately—love.


Crossing the Tracks is a beautiful coming of story set in the 1920s but written in a way that will resonate with readers today. Iris is a strong character undergoing many changes and Stuber plays them out both age and time appropriately. Incorporating letters to further tell the story adds a welcomed element as well and shows more insight into the characters.

Iris has had an unusual upbringing, particularly for the time, as she lost her mother at an early age. Now at fifteen, she's aware that her relationship with her father is less than ideal. Stuber handles her emotions and reactions with an expert hand, using care but still pushing Iris through the needed events. She is a character who is easy to understand and empathize with, and she is also intelligent and sharp witted. With a soft sense of humor and a few unexpected reactions to situations, Iris keeps the reader interested simply by what she's enduring.

Though there are other teenage characters, the majority of Iris' time is spent with Dr. Nesbit's mother. The bond they form is built in an incredible way and reads smoothly. This teen-adult relationship also adds a new element and voice and is one of the most defining features of the book for me. Iris learns things only the elderly can teach us and comes to welcome the small lessons willingly once she understands the kernels of wisdom being offered. Even Dr. Nesbit comes to form a relationship of sorts with Iris and the pair offers far more guidance to Iris than she ever received from her father. The striking contrast between this country doctor who wanted company for his aging mother and Iris' own father helps build much of Iris' character throughout the book

There is a romantic element to this book but is a subplot, remaining low key in both a character and time appropriate manner. Having known Leroy for years from her home town, Iris maintains contact through letters once she is shipped off to the country to live without electricity and on a small farm with the Nesbitts. Though resistant at first, even the letters begin to show Iris' change of heart towards the situation. Her gentle affection towards Leroy is clear from the start and the few times they do see each other after she's moved are tender and endearing. Leroy is a great match for Iris and the strong bond they already share is clear.

The plot itself has a few separate arcs that mingle in a great way to propel the story without pushing the pace too quickly. Much of this story is character growth not only for Iris but those around her. Decisions her father makes are one driving force and possibly the most prominent for Iris as she struggles with her feelings towards him as a result of the way he's always acted around her. An impending marriage furthers this source of tension. The father and daughter pair that live on the Nesbitt's farm and help out also are a strong driving force throughout the book, adding a new source of development and drama. Stuber does a fantastic job combining the elements and arcs and tying everything up in the end to leave the reader with a sense of overall completion.

With an overall air fitting of the time period, a small but strongly defined cast of characters, and a strong writing style that lures the reader into the 1920s, Crossing the Tracks is a great book even for those who are unsure about historical settings. Stuber puts the reader into the setting smoothly; from daily life with no electricity to the more prominent use of body powder, she builds not only her characters but a very strong setting. A blend of drama and humor also tie this book together and make it enjoyable for a range of readers.

Source: ARC received for review free of charge from the author/publisher
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (July 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416997032
ISBN-13: 978-1416997030


  1. Ok, so the romance is a subplot BUT...I still want to read this. It sounds like something I would totally enjoy. Thank you for the marvelous review :)

  2. This book sounds really good! It sounds very much like something I'd enjoy reading, and I know a few others I could pass it on to who would enjoy it as well. Great review Kari! I will be adding this book to my ever-growing reading list!

  3. SQUEE! I won this book!! This was among my most wanted books as of late, so I'm so excited to read it. :) Glad you enjoyed it!