Book Review: The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

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Title: The Book of Ivy
Author: Amy Engel
Published: 2014
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Synopsis: After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual. This year, it is my turn.  My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power. But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy. Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…

My Rating: Red-StarRed-StarRed-StarRed-Star 1/2

“Well,” she says as she closes the book. “Now that was well written!”

It’s funny that I went into this story in the anticipation of finding a sci-fi action packed book with tons of bland romance and YA tropes. I think the reason I jumped to this conclusion was this cover and the mediocre synopsis. This book is none of that, not at all.  The Book of Ivy is something you don’t expect and in the best of ways. For starters, this does not read like YA, this book is insightful, mature and at the heart of it are moral questions. If I had to classify this book I would label it as a Dystopian Coming of Age Feminist Romance. I am so incredibly pleased with this book, it’s one of those rare ones that I want to read again, to grasp all those moments I missed, all those quotes worth noting.

This story centers around Ivy, a stellar heroine if there was ever one. She is married to Bishop Lattimer, the son of the President of this small dystopian city that is encircled by a wall – this wedding takes place in the 1st chapter of the book. It’s not only their wedding, it’s the wedding of all of the girls from the post-war ‘loosing-side’ to the boys from the ‘winning-side’. This is all arranged in order to keep the peace and to unify, the arrangements are based on interviews and personality tests, sometimes they work but something they really don’y. This is also employed as a means of control, it’s hard to see an enemy when that enemy is your son-in-law or your grandchild. This right of passage happens at the age of 16/17 and the young couples are encouraged to begin starting a family to increase population numbers. The younger women get pregnant the better chance of deformities being absent in the child.

Ivy is the granddaughter of the leader of the loosing side and has been raised differently. Ivy has been mentality trained by her father and controlling older sister to fulfill a role, that role is to kill her husband, once they are married. She has 3 months to put this plan into motion. Ivy is not an action star, she’s not combat trained – it’s all in her brain. Controlling emotion, controlling body language, getting what you want out of people, etc. This book, I will tell you, is nothing like what you expect it to be. This is a quiet, sort of insightful account of Ivy’s 3 months living with her new husband and finding her place in this world. She’s only 16 but her maturity is beyond anything you are prepared for. She’s bold, asks tough questions, challenges authority, not by actions but with words. This book’s focus on women’s right, patriarchy, the legal system and mass incarceration, democracy and free choice are craftily woven into a mild plot that turns rather poetic at the end of the novel. This is a philosophical book and it does its job but above all this is a character-driven novel focusing on two characters. Ivy and Bishop.

This book is also about love but not the love you expect. There’s no love at first sight. Ivy and Bishop’s story comes in slowly, organically as it can come from weeks and months of living together. Ivy goes from being weary and afraid of Bishop to blossoming under his patient demeanor and his encouraging words. Bishop is a gem of a male lead, at age 18 he’s not there to over-stage Ivy, he’s there to be a companion with equal footing. He wants her to have opinions, he wants her to speak her mind, he wants her to be ready before they do anything – he’s just lovely. This could have created a very bland character out of Bishop but he’s not bland at all, he’s rich with humor and personality and passion.

The sole reason this book did not garner a full 5 star is 2 reasons: diversity was lacking for me. Granted, this is supposed to take place in the Midwest but the lack of diversity bothered me there is one person of color and though she is awesome I wanted more. A small population interbreeding after 2 generations should create changes in race. Also – there’s zero account for LGBT. Where are the gay characters? If we’re going to discuss human rights I felt that this was lacking and could have easily been addressed given that people are sentenced to death if they refuse to participate in the child marriages.

Is it good for teens? YES – THIS BOOK SHOULD BE SHOVED IN ALL TEEN’S FACES. These are the types of books they should read, these hard questions are placed before the reader in a non-preachy way. The lessons on love, respect, human rights, self-worth are abundant all disguised as a cool dystopian romance.

This book has a companion novel which I have already ordered and hope to get my hands on ASAP because this book does end in a cliffhanger – what I want from the 2nd book is diversity, gay rights, Ivy being kick-ass and WORLD BUILDING!!! I’m really very excited to read anything Amy Engel. Really, I’ll read anything she writes.

ETA: I contacted Amy Engel because that’s just how I roll and she was incredibly nice and told me she has a new novel coming out next year so you know I’m like prematurely excited about this!

excited

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