Book Review: ‘Strays’ by Jennifer Caloyeras

Cover of Strays: A novel by Jennifer CaloyerasSixteen-year-old Iris Moody has a problem controlling her temper–but then, she has a lot to be angry about. Dead mother. Workaholic father. Dumped by her boyfriend. Failing English.

When a note in Iris’ journal is mistaken as a threat against her English teacher, she finds herself in trouble not only with school authorities but with the law.

In addition to summer school, dog-phobic Iris is sentenced to an entire summer of community service, rehabilitating troubled dogs. Iris believes she is nothing like Roman, the three-legged pit bull who is struggling to overcome his own dark past, not to mention the other humans in the program. But when Roman’s life is on the line, Iris learns that counting on the help of others may be the only way to save him.

 

I think I underestimated the extent to which America will go to prevent a school shooting or attack. Iris has some serious anger management issues, and the only way for her to vent these issues is to beat the shit out of her bedroom closet wall and write lists. Unfortunately, the list she decides to write in her English exam lands her in front of a judge and has her looking at possible jail time. When I first read this part, I was like “why would the school and the police go so far with this? Iris just wrote a stupid sentence!” However, when I thought about the many school massacres and shootings I’ve seen on the internet in the past decade my question changed from “why would they take this one incident so far?” to “where does society draw the line at preventing school massacres?”

Frankly, I was indecisive about whether the authority in this novel was in the right to try and prevent what they thought could be another school massacre or whether Iris was in the right for expressing herself and finding creative ways to release her anger. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the authorities were doing what they thought was in the best interest of the society and that Iris should find healthier ways to release her anger.

Another defining moment in Strays is Iris’ rehabilitation. When I first started reading Strays, I thought that the author would go the traditional route and focus on Iris’ connection with Roman (the three-legged pit bull she has to train in dog rehabilitation center): learning about Roman’s history to the point that she begins to empathize with him, realizing that even though he has three legs he can still be an amazing dog, and recognizing that she and Roman are great companions despite her dog phobia. While the author chooses to include all of this, she focuses more on Iris’ connection to her father, her friends, and her love interest.

Iris’ father is your average workaholic with a double dose of pride. He ignores Iris and couldn’t even make it to her court hearing. When he deals the ultimate figurative blow to her, I had to applaud the way in which Iris deals with it. It was hard at first to relate to Iris’ father’s character, but then I realized that both Iris and her father are going through the most depressing period of their lives and that everyone handles grief differently.

Along Iris’ rehabilitation journey, she meets Talbot, a rich girl with attention issues. I really liked the friendship between these two, because Talbot represents the polar opposite of the friends Iris is used to being around. Talbot is wild and adventurous and dares to go the unconventional route. She goes with her own flow most of the time and is easily my favorite character in this novel. Unfortunately, even Talbot has her own problems and reasons for being in the dog rehabilitation program.

Even though this novel managed to change how I see certain social topics, I am still not convinced about pit bulls. I know a lot of people will say that they are harmless animals and need as much love as other animals, but I believe that those dogs need to be let out into the wild. I think that pit bulls can be domesticated as much as snakes. Still, I admired the relationship between Roman and Iris and think that they truly needed one another to get through this period in their lives.

Over the course of the book, Iris comes to terms with her mother’s death, learns how to reconnect with her father (thanks to court-appointed therapy), realizes that the quiet troublemaking boy in her new high school isn’t as much of a loser as her friends made him out to be, and learns that facing your problems head-on is always better than ignoring them. I really enjoyed reading Strays and look forward to more novels by Jennifer Caloyeras.

Rating: 9/10

Book Info: 

Length: 232 pages

Source: My Own Copy

Publisher: Ashland Creek Press (May 15, 2015)

Genre: Teens & YA Fiction

Completed: June 2015

Leigh-Ann Brodber is an upcoming enthusiastic journalist. She knows it is a field that is already heavily flooded by diverse opinions, hard criticism and occasional appraisal (when it’s due), but she’s sure she’ll be able to add her own colors to the journalism rainbow soon enough. Leigh-Ann currently attends COSTAATT, a college located in the Caribbean, where she’s pursuing her Bachelors in Mass Communication. She’s written film, stage production and food articles for various websites, and she’s also a born and bred animal rights activist, although she doesn’t think she’ll ever give up her rights to eat chicken. She has helped out at her local hospital many-a-time by indulging in weekly chit-chat with patients under a program called Candy Stripers. She recently started getting help for her long term Facebook addiction, she swears.