Crossing the Tracks
A quarter of the way into Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber, I really wanted to like it because it's so beautifully written and is local to me, but wasn't sure I'd be able to make myself care enough for the character and her issues, which seemed a little too removed from what I can relate to and bordering on the softly mundane. Three-quarters of the way through I'd been reminded how powerful subtle understatement can be with a little time, because I was completely involved in Iris's life, found myself feeling what she felt as though she were a real person I knew. Reserved, but quietly excellent.
Under a bruised sky, fingers of wind stroke the wheat from bleached gold to tan and back. We pass threshing machines crouched under showers of dust and straw. Fat hay bales dot the landscape.
I'm in the backseat, wondering if the sky will cry and turn the roads to mud before we get to Atchison. The shifting wheat makes the land look upholstered in suede. I shut my eyes, recalling our store and Carl at his bench in the back room.
"Charles, you tryin' to make my life miserable, sellin' this suede? Why every spit of grease and horse $*#! in Atchison, Kansas, just falls in love with it."
I sit straight. Oh, God. Oh, no! I didn't tell Carl to pick out shoes. Daddy can't go anywhere without the right footwear.
The book is about a 15-year-old girl sent to rural Missouri in 1926 by her widower father, where she works as in-home care for an elderly woman. Iris learns much over the course of the summer about herself and life from the woman, her physician son, a love interest, and a tragic neighbor situation.
Stuber's story was a finalist in 2011 for the American Library Association's William C. Morris Award, which honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrates impressive new voices in young adult literature. Her follow-up, Girl in Reverse, set in Kansas City in 1951, was released in 2014 to equally positive reviews and has again garnered her national acclaim.