I was intrigued by the jacket description when Crossing the Tracks, Barbara Stuber’s novel for teens/YA, was released this summer, but it got lost among the stacks of books on my shelf for a few months. I’m so glad I finally found time to read this warm, thoughtful coming-of-age novel set in 1926.
Fifteen-year old Iris feels very alone and abandoned. Her mother died when she was six years old, and her father has been distant ever since. Here, she stops by to visit him in the shoe store he runs in their hometown in Kansas because she’s worried about something:
“Hello.” I sound croaky, cautious.
He nods as he anchors a stack of receipts with a green glass paperweight. He does not ask what I’m doing there.
“How are you today?”
He looks up sharply. “Fine!”
I twist my hair, helpless for what to say next. The back room curtain hangs open. Daddy’s shoe repairman, Carl, has left for the day. “Do you…uh, need help with anything?”
“How are the new Kansas City store plans coming along?” I wince. The question is so out of the blue, so idiotic and phony-sounding.
He shrugs, which could mean Okay or Can’t you see I’m busy or Get lost, Iris.
I turn, bump the counter. Shoeboxes clatter to the floor. “Oh, I’m sorry, I just…” I straighten the mess, swipe my eyes. “I’ll see you soon – around five, then.”
He glances at the clock and says not one word when I walk out the door.
Then Iris discovers that her father has arranged for her to spend the summer working as a housekeeper for a doctor and his mother in a small rural town, while he takes his latest girlfriend to Kansas City to open the new store. She takes the train there, feeling more abandoned and out of place than ever. The doctor and his mother are kind, but she senses pure evil in another resident of the town who menaces both her and his own daughter.
This is a wonderfully tender novel about growing up and finding where you belong, though it has an element of suspense as well. It’s about family and friendship and love, and I came to care about its well-drawn characters and enjoyed the details of the time and place. Crossing the Tracks is Stuber’s first novel; I can’t wait to read more.
258 pages, Margaret K. McElderberry Books (Simon & Schuster)