Monday, September 21, 2009

Ivy by Julie Hearn

My daughter checked this one from the library and the cover impelled me to read it. I know the cliche "can't judge a book by it's cover" and the equally cliche "sex sells" don't always jive, but as a mom I felt it necessary to look into it just to be sure. To my relief, the story isn't as bad as the cover makes out to be.

Ivy, a redheaded waif to begin with, gets along as best she can in her impoverished world. Her aunt and uncle took her in when her mother died, and she has to maneuver through the resultant cruelties of neglect and the bullying of her older cousins. After a brief day at a charity-run school, she finds herself recruited by a woman whose dream is to steal enough children's clothes to resell and later open a dress shop of her own. Ivy's role in the "business" is to lure rich young children away from their caretakers, where Carroty Kate strips them to their underwear and leaves them howling for help while making a quick getaway. Ivy's reaction is understandably distraught, and to help Ivy cope, Kate gives the little five year old a dose of laudanum, an opiate used to encourage sleep.

We see Ivy next, several years later, back at her aunt's place. Her uncle has died, her older cousin is in charge of keeping the family afloat, and Ivy spends many a night in a laudanum induced coma. She is "discovered" by a rich young man, a wannabe artist, who hires her to pose for his paintings because of a luminous, still quality about her that inspires him. At first, the job is no big deal, because she is used to being very still under the laudanum's influence. The jealous mother of the young man goes to great lengths to get rid of Ivy, and in an offhand way, leads Ivy to become less dependent on the drug. Then, in a more alert mind, Ivy sees that she must make a decision as to how she will continue to live her life. Should she continue to be an artist's model, or should she do something that brings her more personal fulfillment beyond anything the drug could have done?

If Ivy hadn't eventually given up the drug, I wouldn't have any real reason to recommend the book to anyone. The fact that Ivy eventually does kick it, and has to fight to do so, gives me hope that a teen reading this might hopefully see that habitual drug use is NOT desirable, and that life is better lived with a clear head. The theme "be true to yourself" comes through the ups and down of her "artistic" career. Ivy grows into her self worth. She is neither a cultured character, nor an overly brash one and she grows in her journey to decide where she will steer her course.

There is some coarse language and innuendo, mainly her cousins encouraging her to give sexual favors to the young artist if that will keep money rolling in, which fortunately she doesn't entertain. In that sense I think this book would be better for older teens rather than middle school aged kids. Ivy is never asked to strip nude for posing but is wrapped in a table cloth and pinned in. This book wouldn't be on my list of "must reads" for teens, but it's not as bad as some I've seen, and with parental discussion, would be a good opportunity to discuss drugs, choices, and integrity.

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