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Book Reviews

My Name Is Iris

In Brando Skyhorse’s deftly crafted new novel, My Name is Iris, the title character faces a world that no longer rewards her for simply playing by the rules. Iris, an American born citizen of Mexican immigrant parents, was raised to be in every way a “model” Mexican American citizen. Her earliest memories are of her parents’ daily refrain: “You were born here.” She’s given “rules” about how to live in America: speak English around strangers; stay a safe distance from “gringos” until they acknowledge you; always call them “sir” or “ma’am”; and never cry in front of anyone. If she can do that, her mother says, “they’ll let you become anything you want here.” Iris, now in her early 40s, has taken her parents’ lessons to heart. She dresses in muted colors, wears simple jewelry, and works hard to live “responsibly.” Though all of this is a willful erasure of her cultural identity—one that goes so far as to first allow a teacher who struggles to pronounce her real name, Inéz, to call her Iris, but to then adopt that name as her own—Iris’s life has, by and large, worked out the way she’s wanted. That is, until something changes.  

After a mostly amicable divorce from her husband, Alex, Iris and her 9-year-old daughter Melanie (Mel) move to North Vecino, a mostly white suburban enclave outside an urban center in an unnamed border state. There, in a neighborhood free of streetlights, sidewalks, and bars on the windows, Iris wakes up one morning to find a wall has sprouted from her front yard. And the wall is growing. And no one but Iris and Mel can see it.  

As if this isn’t enough for Iris to deal with, the state has recently adopted a tech company’s new device called, The Band. It’s pitched as an eco-friendly wristband that replaces driver’s licenses and IDs and is necessary for all state and local services. It also serves as proof of residency. In order to receive The Band and “prove” residency, i.e. citizenship, each person must provide a parent’s US birth certificate. Of course, this is a problem for Iris because neither of her parents were born in the States. Iris’s rule following and assimilating become meaningless without a band. As society cruelly divides between the “banded” and the “unbanded,” Iris confronts the unthinkable: how to prove her identity and exist with her daughter in a society that considers her “unverified.” 

I’d be derelict in my duties as a reviewer of this novel not to comment on Skyhorse’s writing. There are surprising and welcome moments of humor, and Iris’s voice is engaging throughout, even when her ideas and views might be challenging. But one of the things I enjoyed most was that until the very end of the book, the Spanish goes untranslated. Skyhorse refuses to participate in the cultural erasure that Iris seems so set upon, and that might be this novel’s greatest gift.   

Casey Pycior is the author of the short story collection, The Spoils, published in 2017 with Switchgrass / NIU Press, which was a finalist for both the 2018 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Award and the 2018 American Book Award. His story, “Preservation,” won the 2015 Charles Johnson Fiction Award at Crab Orchard Review, and his stories and essays have appeared in South Dakota Review, The Laurel Review, Sport Literate, Beloit Fiction Journal, Harpur Palate, BULL, and Wigleaf, among many other places. He earned his MFA in Fiction from Wichita State University, and his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Indiana, where he serves as the Fiction Editor of the Southern Indiana Review. For more information, visit

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park (Simon & Schuster, 2010), received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award, and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Take This Man: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2014) was an Amazon Best Book of the Month selection and named by Kirkus Reviews as one the Best Nonfiction Books of the year. Skyhorse has also co-edited an anthology, We Wear The Mask: 15 True Stories Of Passing in America (Beacon Press, 2017). He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross Foundation, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and was the 2014-2015 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University. Skyhorse is an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University in Bloomington. 

Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.