Citizen Reviews: Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

We continue our occasional series of customer reviews with Aaron Wilson’s reaction to the latest young adult novel from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

Got to love Facebook! I hesitated joining because I saw how friends and family were addicted to it, spending hours searching for friends, family, and organizations. Well, after finally joining, I found my favorite Minneapolis bookstore, Magers & Quinn, and became a fan. A few days later, an update was posted that Magers & Quinn was looking for someone to review Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s new book “Faith, Hope, and Ivy June. I’m a big fan of Naylor’s novels, which include Shiloh and the addictive Bessledorf Mysteries. So, I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on her newest book.

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June is a smartly written novel that explores, without apology, the sometimes painful class divisions that we take for granted in the United States. Specifically, Naylor opens wide the social, economic, and cultural, divide that exists between two seventh-grade girls in Kentucky. Ivy June and Catherine Combs will spend two weeks living with the other one, recording feelings and thoughts, paying special attention to how their lives are different and how they are similar, in separate journals so that they can report their experiences back to their respective schools.

Karl Marx wrote, “The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles.” Naylor uses Ivy June and Catherine’s characters to access a foreigner’s perspective on the mundane day-to-day reality of either living in urban Lexington or in rural Thunder Creek. Both girls, who once had strong stereotypical views of how the other lived, thought, and behaved, now have an enduring relationship based on respect and in each other’s humanity. However, it was a struggle for both Ivy June and Catherine to come to terms with their inescapable differences.

Before traveling to Lexington to spend two weeks with Catherine, Ivy June had to endure intense suspicion from friends and family alike. They distrusted her desire to experience the big city. There is a telling scene between Ivy June and her sister, Jessie, that begins, “Well, it’s not a Lexington bedroom, but at least I’ve got it to myself” (21) and ends a few pages later with Ivy June giving her mother the forty dollars that the school gave her for the trip (23). Ivy June knows that her family needs the money more than she does and hands it over knowing that it will be put to good use. However, it doesn’t lesson her family’s worries about Ivy June returning from Lexington a different person.

Her family’s fears are realized while Ivy June readies her home for Catherine’s arrival. Ivy June and her grandmother argue, “What you’ve been tryin’ to do this past week is making us change our ways, and I guess we got Lexington to thank for that” (148). Ivy June must come to terms with her life and is afraid that Catherine will judge her because her grandmother wears the same dingy apron, or her great-grandmother will not put on new slippers, and that they will only be able to bathe and wash their hair once a week.

Meanwhile, Catherine worries that when Ivy June arrives that she will need an introduction to basic hygiene, how to use a flush-toilet, and that she may refuse to wear the required school uniform. Catherine also wonders if she will be able to survive two weeks in Thunder Creek without her cell phone because there is no reception in the mountains where Ivy June lives.

Ultimately, Ivy June’s character is more interesting because the author assumes a middle to upper-middle class reader. Ivy June is not only Catherine’s guide into the world of Thunder Creek, but also ours. However, the girls’ journals delve into the tough issues that each of them is trying to understand. My only complaint about the books is that the journals feel underused in the second half of the story. Both girls experience a personal tragedy and the journals become less important, understandably, until the very end.

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June is recommended for ages 9 -12, but anyone interested in reading an intelligent book about finding common ground between social, economic, and cultural, divides in the United States shouldn’t miss this one. If there isn’t an exchange program like this in our country, there should be one. It seems to me that being able to empathize, walk in another class’s shoes, is something that is missing in our educational system. So, we turn to talented novelist to fill that apparent gap.
Aaron M. Wilson lives in Minneapolis with his loving wife and his two cats (one good and one bad). He reviews short stories for his blog, The Soulless Machine Review, and is an adjunct instructor of English, Literature, and Environmental Science at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Minneapolis/St. Paul.