Second Look: IVY by Sarah Oleksyk

Ivy by Sarah OleksykThe Story: In this graphic novel, title character Ivy is an aspiring artist trying to make it through the dredges of her senior year of high school. Ivy is coping with many struggles, both internal and external. She is trying to navigate her social circle and a difficult home life, which includes her single mother who is very adamant about what Ivy should do after high school. Internally, she’s battling with her serious desire to go to art school, a conflict which results in an equally serious fight with her mother (a rolling on the floor, cage match style fight). Unable to take the pressures of life, Ivy runs away with Josh, a fellow artist she meets at a college fair. Unfortunately, the trip he takes her on is hardly one of freedom and self-discovery.

The Low Down: Ivy’s character is so not what I was expecting in this book. I was anticipating a young girl who was being suppressed by parental and social expectations, and just needed to try to find herself and who she really was. What I met with was an unsympathetic, unlikeable bully who doesn’t even deserve to have a book written about her.

Ivy projects an overwhelming amount of bitchassness in her daily travels, enough to make me not even care what happened to her. She is a lousy friend, and is so consumed with her own drama that she never sees what her friends are dealing with. She makes a point of being cruel and mean to a classmate for no reason (except that she might possibly be  an equally amazing artist), and displays zero compassion or consideration for anyone other than herself.

On a different side of the graphic novel spectrum, the artwork is average. It’s certainly much better than anything I could ever draw, but I’ve seen more impressive, striking artwork in other GN’s. Every page was busy and overwhelming, and the story jumped around at times and sometimes made me wonder if a few panels were accidentally left out.


I was also a little surprised by the sexual content in this book. Sex, drugs, and drinking happen in young adult novels, and that’s no different in graphic novels. Ivy drinks. Ivy does a few hits on a joint. And Ivy has sex. No big. The author was trying to convey that Ivy was undergoing a tumultuous period in her life, and making questionable decisions as a result. Fine. However, those concepts and feelings could have easily been conveyed without all the visuals of Ivy gettin’ her freak on with Josh. Let me tell you, there was far more frontal nudity than I ever cared to see of an illustrated teenage girl. (I have a bet going with co-workers as to how long it’ll be for the library’s copy to go missing because it’s hidden under a 13-year-old’s mattress.) Josh’s treatment of Ivy also made my inner feminist freak out a little, as Josh seems to be a fan of the hit and run (or blow and go, bang her and hang her… whatever term you prefer) which royally pissed me off.

My summary was a little misleading in that Ivy’s road trip with Josh is, in fact, one of self-discovery. It’s not a fulfilling road trip full of cotton candy and unicorns and maybe the occasional conflict like some other coming of age stories. Ivy truly had to hit rock bottom before she could realize what she left behind. For her to realize what was important in her life, she puts herself in a difficult position, so she has no choice but to confront how lucky she is. In that sense, the moral does come shining through if you can see the story through to the end.

Bottom Line: Despite being one of YALSA’s Great Graphic Novel for 2012, I’ve read better coming of age stories. Ivy’s rudeness and self-destructive begavior is more of a black mark against confused teenagers instead of a call to be patient with them for trying to figure out who they are. Miedocre artwork doesn’t do it any favors. or any folks who are a bit more conservative, I’d recommend holding off on this one due to the nudity and some strong language.



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