Iris Greenwold is a dreamer who would rather write reports about the Greek gods or King Arthur or Atlantis than copy out the Declaration of Independence by hand onto graph paper (go figure!):
This made her unpopular, for the teachers at Erebus did not like imagination; they liked neat handwriting. So they gave Iris lots of detentions, to shake the dreamer out of her.
She's the only child of divorced parents. Her mother is an extremely health-conscious tofu researcher ("Happy birthday, sweetie! Just think, twelve years and nine months ago, you were a zygote! I'm going to put a little wheat germ on that awful bacon okay?") and her father is extremely religious and lives in Wisconsin with his new, sickly wife. (In a single phone call, Iris learns that her stepmother just got over the shingles, has some kind of liver fluke AND a collapsed lung.)
For her twelfth birthday, she gets the usual from her parents*, but those aren't her only gifts. A boy on a skateboard delivers a third present -- a huge, illustrated version of Bullfinch's Mythology. Though Iris has no idea who sent it, it's certainly the best birthday gift she's ever received.
Handwritten notes in the margins lead Iris to the Margate boardwalk and to Poseidon's Clam Shack, which is run by none other than Poseidon himself. And that, of course, is just the beginning.
I've been making everyone read this bit -- it's when Iris meets Atlas (who's a bouncer) while trying to get into the jazz club where Apollo is performing:
Behind him, the club filled with applause. When it subsided, a silky voice yelled out, "Yo, Atlas, who's at the door?"
The huge man held her gaze and yelled back, "Some shorty. Says you're expecting her."
"Let her in, then."
Kills me every time. Can't you imagine Sarah Deming writing that and just howling? That's what I would have done.
Anyway. I liked this book a whole lot. A Whole Lot. Each god/dess that she meets tells her a story. As each story is told by a different character, each one has its own flavor and rhythm and perspective.
The book occasionally reminded me of Jean Ferris' Love Among the Walnuts, oddly. I'm not sure exactly why. I'll think on it. The Appendix was pure Klise, though unillustrated. Deming's treatment of the gods is closer to Neil Gaiman's mythology than to Rick Riordan's -- very few modern people continue to tell their stories, let alone believe in them, and due to that, their power has waned and some of them have even died.
While I don't think it'll be as hugely popular as the Riordan books, I think it's a better book. Don't get me wrong. I like the Riordan books a lot -- they're lots and lots of fun -- but Iris, Messenger has more depth. If I was still a bookseller, I'd hand sell the crap out of it. Well, I would when it comes out. Which is next May. Sorry.
*I didn't catch what she got from her mother, unless it was the bacon, but I know she got a brand-new Bible from her father.