This coming of age story begins in Kansas, in 1916, with young Iris playing house beneath her mother’s coffin, hidden by the black velvet curtains that hang from it. The next chapter begins ten years later as Iris’s father, whom she is desperate to connect with, sends her away to work for a Dr. Nesbitt as housekeeper, nursemaid, and companion, for the doctor’s elderly mother. Iris’s father wants her out of the way as he also plans to remarry. He owns a shoe store and also plans to open a second store in a nearby town. Iris is heartbroken as she had hoped to help him open that store.
After Iris moves in with the doctor and his mother she maintains a friendship with Leroy, her best friend from home, through letters they write to each other. A renter on the doctor’s property has a teenage daughter who hates Iris for her position in the doctor’s home. The girl has an even darker relationship with her father.
The contrast between the painfully distant relationship Iris has with her father and the genuine conversations and experiences she has with the doctor and his mother—and with Leroy, is deeply satisfying. Through these people Iris is able to heal and to rise above the tragedy that is yet to come.
The story is about two girls and their fathers—fathers who aren’t to be trusted with a girl’s heart. It’s also about shoes—those we step into, those we step out of, and the imprint we leave behind.
There are lovely metaphors and insights about people in this book: “The moon is a bleached opal”, and “Thirty-eight, she says, the way someone might say shut up.”
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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