Book Review: White Ivy by Susie Yang

TW: Sexual assault, self-harm/suicidal idealism, eating disorders/body hatred/fatphobia, violence, death/dying, mental health triggers,...

TW: Sexual assault, self-harm/suicidal idealism, eating disorders/body hatred/fatphobia, violence, death/dying, mental health triggers, racism/racial slurs, sexism/misogyny, classism, sex, domestic abuse

If you follow any kind of book groups, book clubs, magazine recommendations, etc., you've likely heard about White Ivy. It was everywhere back in the fall when it released. 

Back cover synopsis: 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. 

Filled with surprising twists and offering sharp insights into the immigrant experience, White Ivy is both a love triangle and a coming-of-age story, as well as a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.

I struggled to enjoy the first part of the book. It’s very much literary fiction, which I tend to find anticlimactic and leaning towards unbearably boring. But then, with about a quarter of the book left, it was suddenly not so boring anymore. It took quite a thrilling, while slow burning, turn. So twisty it was that I had to reread the chapter again because I thought I had misread it. It didn’t really feel like the same book or the same story, but overall, it made sense. Then the ending was slower again, and predictable, but very much poetic and truly the perfect way to end the book. I’m not sure I could’ve found any other ending to be satisfactory.

Ivy is incredibly unlikeable, and I hate that her entire existence really revolves around these two men. She doesn’t really know who she is, and the parts of herself that she recognizes, she wants those parts to be different. I think it speaks loads to American society and how the “American Dream” is about race and status, how the “best thing to be” is rich and white. It’s disheartening and sad and infuriating.

"Knowledge, like money, was foolish to give away for free. You could never get it back." - White Ivy, Susie Yang

White Ivy is honestly a really fantastic story, but it’s one of those that isn’t a surface level story. It’s deep, there’s lots to analyze, and while it’s pacing could’ve certainly been faster, I do think it was written well for the story that was being told. 

White Ivy isn’t a happy book, but I wouldn’t describe it as sad either. It’s honest and raw. It’s worthy of a read, especially for fans of Celeste Ng.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

*I received  a digital copy of this book free for review thanks to Netgalley. All opinions are entirely my own.

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