Iris by Toni Owen-Blue, e-book, 85 pages, published by Blue Books in 2016.
Iris is just a child, she thinks of herself as a bit weird, and to the outside world she is pretty average. Behind the closed doors of her house, her family life is anything but normal. Her mother works in surgery and keeps odd hours, while her father is always holed up in the home office working. This leaves Iris in charge of her younger brother, Waltz. She makes him dinner, bathes him, supervises his homework and puts him to bed. Along with her schoolwork and the housework, that is Iris’ whole life. Then Lotus arrives. Lotus immediately befriends Iris, and for the first time in her life, Iris sees how other mums treat their daughters, and it contrasts dramatically with her own experience.
Written in first person from Iris’ perspective, this novel is short, but it packs a big punch. It touched my heart. I felt great sadness and anger, the end brought tears. As the story progressed I became angrier and angrier with Iris’ mother. The way she treats Iris is horrifying. Neglect, emotional and physical abuse. Iris is always having ‘accidents’ at her mother’s hands, believing that she is stupid, fat and useless because that is what she is told every day. And she has far too much responsibility for her age. No one that young should have to raise their younger sibling, ever. When does she get to be a kid?
She talks about her Dad working in the annexe office but he is not in the story. We never see him interact with Iris and Waltz, he never prepares their meals or puts them to bed. He is there, but not, absent from their lives because his work is more important than his family. And it seems that their mother is not there much either, and when she is, she is shaming Iris, guilting her, hurting her, making her feel worthless. What kind of parents are they? They should never have had kids.
Iris is well written and incredibly realistic. The subject matter made it, at times, difficult to read. There were times when I didn’t want to know what else would happen to Iris, but I haboured hope that she would escape her situation. I read this emotional tale knowing that there are too many children in the world suffering as Iris does, but I had to know how Iris’ story ended.
This story raises awareness of an issue that is often undetected or ignored. Iris’ mum was good at putting on an act for other people to hide how she was treating Iris and Waltz, and she was good at making Iris feel guilty and ashamed. These feelings, along with the natural love she has for her mother kept her from telling anyone what was happening. Lotus’ mum knew something wasn’t right, but she didn’t speak up. She may have felt it wasn’t her place to interfere, or that she was over-reacting, or even that Iris somehow deserved it. And did the teachers never wonder about Iris? They must have seen the bruises, seen her lack of confidence and belief that she is stupid and useless. And so, child abuse can fly below the radar, damaging the child sometimes beyond repair.
Iris is suitable for upper primary and high school children. It may be good for young readers to discuss the themes with an adult, as it is quite confronting. Iris will pull your heart-strings, make you want to swoop in, bundle her in your arms and save her, want to save all the children that suffer at the hands of their parents. This poignant story will stay close to your heart for years to come. If you can help an Iris, somehow, somewhere, please do it, no child deserves that.
*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.