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Reviewed by Kimberley Nielsen, School Library Administrator, Excellere College, Northland
Opening sentence
This is the story of a long journey and a true friend. It is also the story of other things too: sisters (three) ships (many) secrets (a multitude).
This is the first verse novel that I have read. Before starting I wondered how that would go, but in reality, I barely noticed once I started reading. I suspect that if I had read it aloud, there would have been an extra richness to the story that was missed in the silent reading.

Telling Iris’ story from the perspective of a close companion of hers adds a level of distance to, what is at times, a harrowing story. Some things, such as Iris’ pregnancies and mental health struggles are talked about with a level of detachment, as if reciting facts, rather than experienced by the reader. In some ways, this makes them harder to hear when faced with the realities of gender-based stigma and discrimination of the time. Her love for her children is evident and the grief she felt at not being able to raise them is obvious.
Other experiences, such as her time in the war hospital with Dr Nettie, are told with rich detail that is hard to forget. Overall, her story is told with tenderness, and occasional surprising humour (“…the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, / which sounds exotic / if you’re not in it”).

'Iris and Me' is one of those books you find yourself thinking about long after you put it down. Mostly I find myself thinking about how unfair her life was, how things could have been different if she had been born almost a century later. Would her life have been easier if she didn’t have to hide so much of herself and keep so many secrets? Would she have been so driven to tell the stories of those bearing the brunt of the Japanese invasion without the emotional pain she carried? The book itself asks questions that encourage the reader to reflect further – What happened to the people Iris met while in China? What must her family have thought when they received her letters?

‘Iris and Me’ has been well researched, with notes at the back for those wanting to know more about her life and read more of her work. I especially liked the way the author included lines from Iris’ own writings within the text.

This would be a great book to read and discuss as a class as it would prompt rich discussions on feminism, disability, poverty, and cultural expectations of gender.

Advisory warnings for this book: Depression, suicide, stillbirth.
Author & Illustrator: Philippa Werry
Publisher: The Cuba Press
ISBN: 9781991150844
Format: Paperback
Publication: March 2023
Ages: 13+
Themes: The brutality of war, gender-based discrimination, disability, determination, grief.