Crossing the Tracks
In this debut novel, Barbara Stuber explores the meaning of family in Missouri in the summer of 1926. Fifteen-year-old Iris Baldwin has lost her mother at an early age, and her relationship with her father is distant. He seems more interested in expanding his shoe business and his new girlfriend than spending time with his daughter. Iris feels betrayed when she discovers that her father has hired her out as a companion to a country doctor’s invalid mother for the summer. But she soon develops an affection for the quirky Mrs. Nesbitt, who is as wise as she is odd. Dr. Nesbitt has his own secrets but quickly reveals himself as a caring man who fills the paternal void for Iris. Iris finds her new life to her liking except for a menacing tenant farmer who has the community terrorized. Iris has left a friend behind, Leroy, and her correspondence with him provides a lovely counterpoint to the unfolding narrative. Even more effective are the letter she writes, but doesn’t send.
Stuber’s imagery is exquisite and her voices, particularly Iris’s and Mrs. Nesbitt’s, are distinctive. We are in Iris’s mind throughout, and we fall in love with the Nesbitts just as quickly as she does. The plot at times felt contrived, and there were elements to the ending that did not feel supported by the earlier text. However, these issues did not detract from my enjoyment of this fine novel. Recommended for young adult readers who enjoy character-driven novels.