Writers for young people are often encouraged to pen their novels at a level no higher than high school and then jettison directly to adult books if desired. The college years have been considered difficult to market and segment in bookstores. This tenet may have to be reconsidered after reading The Ivy, the first book of a series.
The story follows Callie Andrews as she enters her freshman year in the county’s most prestigious university—Harvard. She may have anticipated contending with rigorous academic studies, but she discovers that nothing compares to the social minefields she has to negotiate.
Callie’s hometown boyfriend lets her down in so many ways, almost as soon as she enters the college, but not to worry—she meets three Harvard boys that keep her more than busy trying to juggle their machinations at romance; at least, it seems like romance. Callie is often not sure if she’s reading the signals right. Being a sunny California girl without a trust fund isn’t helping her fit in or find the right niche. Besides the boys, there are roommates to juggle—each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. The one constant is Callie’s struggle to find her place and be true to whom she is—if she can figure out who that is.
The reader is plunged into the thick of the story starting with Callie’s first day when she moves into the dorm. The story moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged. There are a number of chapters that begin with a letter, statements from the school’s on-campus magazine or newspaper, an online chat, invitation to a party etc. Initially, this is disconcerting, as it pulls the reader out of the story rather abruptly, but as one gets used to it and comes to expect it, it offers a unique way of gaining more information about the social components of the Harvard environment.
The author Lauren Kunze and her collaborator Rina Onur are 2008 graduates of Harvard. As this reader read the novel, she wondered how much, if any of the story was based on their own experiences. Many of the characters are shallow and self-absorbed, though there is transformation and growth for some by the conclusion of the book.
There were quite a number of characters to keep track of and it was often necessary to look back and reread portions to ensure the connections between characters were accurate.
The Ivy picks up speed and interest as the reader becomes accustomed to the layout of the novel and the characters’ transition into people that possessed greater depth and substance.
While this is the first book of a series, it cannot be considered a standalone novel as it clearly ended with a major cliffhanger. The book ends at a significant point in the story. Such an obvious inconclusive ending may leave readers breathless for the next installment—or annoyed and frustrated. Or all three.