Iris is a novel which is centred on the heavy topic of child neglect and abuse. This book, at first, seems to be the straight forward story of a young girl who feels different, with an overly strict mother, no friends and wild fantasies, however it is so much more than that. Having known the premise of this book from the outset, it meant that I saw the abusiveness of the mother from page one, but it is the subtlety that makes Iris’ situation so chilling. The devil truly is in the detail for this book, quite literally.
Before speaking about the most poignant theme of the story, which is of course the abuse that Iris faces, I will first deal with the actual style of the novel. The first word which comes to mind when reading Owen-Blue’s work is, surprisingly, relatable. This is not to say that I have gone through the horrible treatment which Iris faces on a daily basis, actually quite the opposite, but everyone can relate to the ‘classroom’ scenes which are scattered throughout. She is a young girl who feels nervous about meeting new people, struggles with a particular teacher at school, and likes to bury her head in books. I would say that the majority of people can relate to at least one of these things, and with the novel being written in first person, the intimacy allows the reader to share in her experiences even more so. The fact that she also breaks the fourth wall right at the beginning of the novel also makes her feel that much more real, and thus making her situation even more heart-breaking.
The focus of Iris is that of a young, meek girl, who is trapped in an awful situation. We meet her during one of her fantasies, standing in the garden holding an umbrella and wishing she could fly away like Mary Poppins. She is a girl with her head in the clouds and, at first glance, seems like an ordinary pre-teen. However, we can see from the first page that something is off about her home life. Iris is not a care free child who plays with her friends and forgets to do her homework, in fact she is quite the opposite. Instead, she looks after her brother Walter (nicknamed Waltz), and this encompasses cooking dinner for him, giving him baths and putting him to bed, all whilst looking after herself and getting her homework done on time. Although her family unit, consisting of a working Mum and Dad, her brother and a dog, seems standard, it is far from it. For one, we never actually meet the father, he is a character who is shut away in his own workspace, taking no notice of the children, becoming the epitome of neglect. The mother isn’t much more present, she works long hours and then is extremely dismissive of Iris when she is around. Iris’ insecurities and issues all stem from her mother’s conditioning. Since Iris is often called stupid and made to feel useless by her mother, who favours her brother significantly, she finds it very difficult to conjure the confidence to make friends. However, this all changes when a new girl named Lotus joins her class and becomes close to Iris. I will digress a moment to talk about the names of these two girls, as being flower names the meaning behind them is important, as in literature (and many cultures) flower symbolism is very telling. The meaning for Iris can be; hope, courage or determination, all qualities of which the little girl in the book has, despite her hope waning in the darkest times. Although, what is more interesting is that the friend who brings some light into her life, being called Lotus, represents rebirth. This chance of a rebirth is very important to Iris and the reader as we desperately want her to succeed and find happiness.
Everything about Lotus is different from what Iris is used to, and this is why, as a reader, she is so appealing. She has dyed blue hair, draws tattoos up her arms in pen, and the attention that she gives Iris is full of loyalty. Lotus is the only selfless person in her life, as all she wants to do is spend time with Iris. Her mother knows no such loyalty, despite Iris going above and beyond what she should, and being completely loyal to hiding her mother’s ill-doings. There is very little food, parental presence or love in her house, and yet we find this young girl trying to make the best life she can for her brother and herself. This is what makes this book so haunting, that a young girl lives in fear everyday of her life, despite trying to do best by others. The abuse is definitely what stays with you long after you put the book down. What makes it so disturbing is that no one seems to notice that Iris is a victim of abuse, despite having bruises and various signs which seem to be obvious to the reader. However, this external façade that the family puts up around themselves in order to shield what goes on behind closed doors, is a common trait in real world situations of this kind. Toni Owen-Blue not only writes a well-crafted story, which is an impacting read, but also raises awareness for child abuse in a very eye opening novel.
Some of her novel’s profits are going to the NSPCC, which helps protect children and prevent stories like Iris’ from being a reality. So I urge you to pick up a copy, use the buttons below to find her official website, and where you can purchase her wonderful story.
Please check out the beautiful, and haunting, illustrations for this novel in my article here.