White Ivy by Susie Yang — Release Date November 3, 2020
Verdict: I was expecting something different than a slow burn character study of a compulsive liar, but if you go in knowing that’s what you’ll get then this is a fantastic read.
Special Note: this book currently has a Goodreads Giveaway going on! So if you’re interested, head on over and enter the giveaway! (Ends 10/7/20)
Recommended: to people who know what they’re getting
For a psychological study of a woman who lacks empathy, for race and class reflections on a life lived, for a strangely compelling view of someone constantly on the edge of self destruction, for a very slow-paced read that focuses on the inner workings on one woman’s mind
Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her. Raised outside of Boston, she is taught how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops by her immigrant grandmother. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, where her dream instantly evaporates. Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when she bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate. Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners and weekend getaways to the Cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.
This book was not what I expected. Instead of an explosive thriller watching a descent into madness fueled by racism and class striation, I got a character study of a person trapped in their own mind as they self destruct their happiness in lieu of what they see as The Good Life. By the end, I felt a little deflated. But hopefully, if I can set expectations correctly, you can read this book happily the whole way through and end it feeling quite satisfied with what you’ve had.
We are with Ivy from infancy to early adulthood. Tracing her fall into thieving and other acts of familial rebellion resonate with other accounts of second generation Asian kids in America (at least, in novels if not in fact). While I anticipated this having a larger effect as it snowballed throughout the story, things turned instead to Ivy’s endless need to lie about who she is and what her life is. Her childhood crush (nee, obsession) Gideon is the primary target of this as she plots to catch him for her own in her 20s at a chance meeting. Since he’s quite well-to-do, Ivy has to hide her darkside and her poor family at all costs.
Please expect a super slow burn for this book. Imagine a page of paper curling slowly to ash in the dying embers of a fire, and that’s what this is like. Not a bad thing, but something to be properly prepared for. The drama in this book is all in Ivy’s mind as she panics and calculates and manipulates.
The plot did not go as I expected. That wouldn’t usually be a bad thing, but here it left me feeling a bit flat. Like, why did I even bother reading that whole book if this is where Ivy ends up? I suppose the answer there is along the lines of “it’s the journey, not the destination.” This book could certainly speak volumes to the secret inner lives of every person you see. And while this book is ostensibly based entirely around Ivy’s relationship with Gideon, there’s really no romance; don’t expect much like that.
White Ivy left me wondering why she makes the choices she does; Ivy doesn’t seem to know what her happiness would truly look like, and so instead grabs onto what she thinks it is supposed to look like. Even when possible happiness is in her grasp, she detonates and takes her lying to the ultimate endgame of lies.
My favorite bits of this were watching Ivy’s mental evolution as she layers more and more lies in her life and is then blindsided when it seems that some of them have become fact. This crystalizes early on when she is sent to China, and her attitude bends in quite different ways after that.
So, this is not a bad book. Personally it was not what I thought it would be, and so my experience was a bit tepid. However I can happily recommend it to others assuming they know what it is. So please, if a slow burn character study of a compulsive liar obsessed with image sounds up your alley, plan to read this one! It is truly excellent at what it does.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.