Ivy cover

From a few years’ perspective, Ivy’s struggles are heartbreaking. I alternated between wanting to shake some sense into her, to listen and hug her, and wishing this was a Choose Your Own Adventure book so I could show her how alternate decisions would have been so much better.

Ivy is a teen artist, struggling with the uncertainties of high school friendships and where to go to college and how to separate from her single mother. She’s one of the most realistic adolescents I’ve ever met in comics, because she makes the wrong decisions and accidentally alienates her friends through selfish behavior. When she meets a boy she thinks is another kindred spirit, the two make bad choices on a runaway trip.

She’s active, and she suffers consequences from her decisions. We’re not meant to pity her, but to understand her. She’s three-dimensional, with both admirable and annoying qualities. Even when she wants to be rescued, she quickly learns that it’s best to stand on her own. When she succumbs to blaming others for her shortcomings, we understand the desire to lash out and her jealousy of those who seem to have things easier. When she picks the wrong way to get out of town, underneath, we know that the need to escape, to go somewhere new in the hopes it will provide the magic amount of change to make life better, is a common motivation.

Ivy cover

Sarah Oleksyk’s art is extremely accomplished, with thick, confident lines and plenty of emotion. (Aren’t the teen years all about feeling raw all the time and wearing everything you feel blatantly?) Ivy’s body language is often self-effacing, folding in on herself and slumping, while the world around her is solid, grounding her. I didn’t even notice, until I read Don’s review, the lack of technology — Ivy writes letters instead of email, for instance, and uses pay phones — but it contributes to the timeless feel.

I thought a lot about class distinctions while reading. Ivy’s mother is extremely aggressive about “you WILL go to business school” in an attempt to give her daughter a better life than she feels she has. Mom got pregnant, never finished high school, and the father walked out on her years ago, leaving her to struggle. (The problem with this is that Ivy recognizes that, by this telling, she is part of the horrible situation to be avoided in addition to the hope for the future.) That’s not an environment I know much about personally, but Oleksyk portrays the situation so well and so skillfully that I could feel the trap of no money and few options closing around me while reading.

Ivy blends the coming-of-age novel with a life-changing journey/road trip story and the tale of a talented outsider learning to fit into her skin. There’s a lot going on in this book, so I’m glad they printed it in hardcover. I expect to reread it every few years, gaining new perspective from it each time.

This interview with Oleksyk talks about her six years of work on the book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


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