Crossing the Tracks

midwest train tracks

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber

After Iris’ mother died, her father no longer has time for her, immersed in his growing shoe business.  When the business is about to expand to Kansas City, her father hires her out to a farm family without informing her first much less asking her opinion.  So Iris is sent to care for an elderly woman and her doctor son in rural Missouri.  She leaves behind her best friend Leroy and any illusions about her father caring about her.  The move to the country turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to Iris.  The family is warm and friendly to Iris, who slowly learns a lot about herself, her courage, and her connection to her mother.  But all is not perfect in the countryside, they live far too close to an angry man who drove off his wife and is now doing unspeakable things to his daughter.  Iris has to find a cunning way to help a girl who has only ever hated her.  In the end, Iris may be a hobo, but so are we all.

A virtuoso of a debut performance, this book is written with strength and conviction.  Stuber’s writing is beautifully constructed, each small detail meant to lead somewhere in the story or mean something more to the reader.  She uses several important themes that tie the entire novel together: homelessness and hobos being the most significant.  Yet she never allows these themes to drive the story, rather they are part of it, a twining of theme around the plot.  It is beautifully done.

Set in the 1920s, the book never gets bogged down with period details, rather the time period is portrayed through the story.  It is woven in and helps tell the story itself.  Doctors make housecalls, cars are fairly new machines, and there are no cell phones and only party lines. 

Iris is a marvelous protagonist with her hard exterior from years with her father neglecting her and yet her yearning for connection and family.  Iris grows as the story progresses and kindness is shown her.  Stuber has written her growth in a natural and organic way that really rings true.  There are no unbelievable leaps forward, but a slow movement with steps backwards.  The supporting cast is also very well rendered right down to Marie, the dog.  Mrs. Nesbitt, the fiesty woman whom Iris cares for, does just as much caring for Iris.  Mrs. Nesbitt is one of the reasons this book is so successful, she is hardly the stereotypical elderly woman, far from it. 

Highly recommended, this book is historical fiction with a touch of romance and danger.  It is an intoxicating mix that readers will find difficult to put down.  I happily await her next novel!  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Check out Barbara’s website here and the trailer for the book below:

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