Iris, Messenger
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Iris, Messenger

5.0 1
by Sarah Deming

Dreamer Iris Greenwold doesn't care much for the real world. It's generally pretty disappointing: divorced parents, unsympathetic peers, and a middle school that is hell. But then, on her twelfth birthday, Iris mysteriously receives a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology and discovers that the entire pantheon of gods are living in the greater Philadelphia


Dreamer Iris Greenwold doesn't care much for the real world. It's generally pretty disappointing: divorced parents, unsympathetic peers, and a middle school that is hell. But then, on her twelfth birthday, Iris mysteriously receives a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology and discovers that the entire pantheon of gods are living in the greater Philadelphia area. Poseidon's running a clam shack, Aphrodite's doing makeovers, Apollo's playing tenor sax. . . .

Suddenly the day-to-day life Iris found so humdrum is rich with new meaning and excitement, and all her dreams are not quite what they seemed.

Includes an author's note and a key to the gods and goddesses.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Iris Greenwold wants nothing more than to feel special as she suffers through eighth grade at Erebus Middle School. The daughter of divorced parents, Iris lives with her single mom, who works as a soybean-tologist at Tofu-licous, a natural foods company. On her thirteenth birthday, Iris receives a mysterious gift of Bulfinch’s Mythology that turns out not to be, as she initially assumes, from her father. Upon her first reading, Iris encounters notes scribbled in the margins that ask, “Didn’t you ever wonder, Iris, what happens to the gods when people stop worshipping them? Where do they go? What do they do?” The rest of the novel answers this question. As Iris uses her second gift--a rainbow shawl--to travel to different parts of the city, she spends time with Poseidon, who owns an oyster shack on the beach; Apollo, a jazz musician; Amphitrite, a beauty salon owner; Artemis and Athena, private investigators; and many others. In full chapters, printed in italics, the gods tell her their stories of love and loss, jealousy and vengeance, war and peace. But Iris is not just an uninvolved listener; she also gets to help make life better for some of these gods, who acknowledge that their heyday is long past. Sarah Deming’s nuggets of humor will keep readers entertained. When Iris upbraids Hades--who turns out to be the Principal at Erebus--for torturing students, he pouts and says, “But we can’t stop, Iris! Punishment is what we’re best at. Middle school is the closest thing we’ve found to hell.” And when Iris praises Artemis and Athena for being virgin goddesses, Artemis quips, “Yep, that’s us . . . not to say we haven’t slipped from time to time. There was once a hunter namedOrion . . . He was very handsome. But I shot him. Accidentally. That was the last time I was tempted.” In the end, Iris is rewarded for her inquisitiveness: she finally finds out whose daughter she really is. Young readers who love mythology and those who enjoy the stories but are not ready to tackle Bulfinch’s, D’Aulaire’s, or Edith Hamilton’s books might find this a good place to start. As is true of the myths, the abundance of characters in this novel sometimes makes the story hard to follow, but to help, Deming has included a family tree of the gods and a note listing Roman names for the Greek gods in the back. Reviewer: Michelle H. Martin, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8
Iris Greenwold is a dreamer; it's how she escapes her miserable existence. Her mother researches soybeans for an uncaring employer and her wacky father lives far away and pays almost no attention to her. Erebus Middle School is awful, with classmates who torment her and teachers who don't understand why she doesn't pay attention. And then, for her 12th birthday, Iris receives an incredible gift: Bulfinch's Mythology . Reading about the exploits of the Greek gods is right up her alley, but she is puzzled when mysterious messages start popping up in the book's pages and downright startled to discover that the gods are all living nearby at the New Jersey shore and in the Philadelphia area. Moreover, they desperately need her help. As she meets such figures as Poseidon (who runs a seaside oyster shack), Apollo (owner of a cool jazz club), and Aphrodite (stylist extraordinaire), she's also treated to firsthand accounts of Greek myths. This engaging story of an unhappy girl whose dreaming pays off in wonderful ways will be a hit with adolescents dealing with those difficult middle school years. Give it to readers who gobble up Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series (Hyperion/Miramax) and other novels where teens interact with the Greek pantheon.
—Sharon GroverCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Iris's discovery that the Greek gods have moved to the Philadelphia area sparks an adventure even more marvelous than the best of her many daydreams. Thanks to clues written in the margins of a 12th-birthday gift copy of Bulfinch's Mythology, Iris finds Poseidon running an oyster shack down on the Jersey Shore, Apollo playing jazz in a small club, Ares working as a lawyer and other deities, none of them what they once were, similarly keeping low profiles. Most are friendly sorts though, who offer her personal, chapter-length versions of familiar myths (including the story of Phaethon as a bluesy ballad) and send her on to the next encounter in what becomes a journey of self-discovery. Iris, it seems, is a member of the Family, and by the end, not only has she learned that her father isn't who she thought he was, but the sinking fortunes of her and her mother-an out-of-work soybean scientist-have undergone a literally miraculous reversal. Deming isn't the first to use the "American gods" premise, but she develops it with uncommon verve, and her characters, mortal or otherwise, positively sparkle. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.77(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The main difference between school and prison is that prisons release you early for good behavior. School lasts about thirteen years no matter how good you are. Also, prison has better food.
           The motto of Erebus Middle School was “We Love Children.” This gave Iris Greenwold a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach, which she would later learn was called “irony.”
           Iris’s strategy for survival at Erebus was to be as inconspicuous as possible. The more average you seemed, the less the other kids would pick on you and the more the teachers would ignore you. This would leave you free to dream. And if there was one thing Iris Greenwold was good at, it was dreaming. She was always making up stories about imaginary people. Iris preferred imaginary people. They were more interesting than real ones. Whenever she had to write a report, she would try to do it on something like the Greek gods or King Arthur or the lost continent of Atlantis.
           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.
           Today was her worst class: double-period Social Studies. Since it was the very last class on Friday, Iris thought of it as a dragon guarding the gates to the weekend. Before entering the classroom, she imagined putting on a suit of armor and taking a magical sword in hand. Then she stepped in to face the foe.
Like most of her teachers, Mr. Pedlow was slightly insane. He was a direct descendant of General Robert E. Lee, and he mentioned this at least once a period. He had covered his desk with a large Confederate flag and an actual Civil War cannon that pointed directly at the students. For the last month, he had been making them copy out the Declaration of Independence onto graph paper. Iris hadn’t gotten very far, because whenever she got to the part about “the pursuit of Happiness,” her mind began to wander. The pursuit of Happiness was a nice thing to think about.
            Mr. Pedlow bellowed, “Faster! I want to see the whole thing copied out by the end of the day, including the signatures!”
           Iris had discovered that if she stared at the graph paper long enough, whatever she looked at afterward would be covered with a grid of tiny orangey lines. She would have to ask her mother why that happened. Iris looked out the window and covered the parking lot with the orange lines, which she imagined were an advanced security system, put in place to protect her, the princess, from assassins. The man with the mop, who seemed to be the school janitor, was really a ninja sent by an enemy king. She was watching him try to infiltrate the defenses, when Mr. Pedlow caught her eye. Iris panicked and looked back at her paper, but it was too late. She had violated one of her own rules for survival at Erebus: Never make eye contact.
           “Iris Greenwold is off in dreamland again, I see. Are we keeping you from something, Miss Greenwold?” He studied her through his monocle.
           “No, sir, Mr. Pedlow.” She began to copy furiously.
           “Dreaming up new tofu recipes?” The class snickered. Iris’s mother worked at a tofu factory and had insisted on doing a presentation for Career Day. Iris had never heard the end of it.
           “No, Mr. Pedlow.” She hunched down in her seat and tried her best to look invisible, praying he wouldn’t give her another detention.
           He dipped an old-fashioned pen into ink and wrote something in his grade book. “That’s one detention for you, written with a fountain pen once used by my ancestor Robert E. Lee. I advise you to pay more attention, Iris. I see that this is your eighth detention this year. Two more and you’ll go to the principal.”
           Iris shivered. Strange tales were told about the principal of Erebus Middle School. She returned to her graph paper and copied steadily until the end of class, trying not to think about Happiness.
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Deming
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

SARAH DEMING was a Golden Gloves champion, a pastry chef, and a yoga instructor before becoming an author. Iris, Messenger is her first novel. Sarah lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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