Kate’s Review: “White Ivy”

Book: “White Ivy” by Susie Yang

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, November 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I won an ARC in a Goodreads giveaway.

Book Description: A dazzling debut novel about a young woman’s dark obsession with her privileged classmate and the lengths she’ll go to win his love.

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.

Review: Thank you to Goodreads for sending me an ARC of this novel as part of a giveaway!

Me and my kiddo were sitting in the front yard one day, when a UPS guy pulled up and had what was clearly a book shaped parcel in his hands. I thanked him from afar and after he left I wondered if I had ordered a book that I’d forgotten about. But when I opened it up and saw that it was “White Ivy” by Susie Yang, it occurred to me that I had won a Goodreads giveaway! Which rarely happens! I had seen a bit of buzz online about this book, being described as a thriller much like “The Luckiest Girl in the World”, which is about a social climbing schemer with a dark past. That book was entertaining enough, so I figured “White Ivy” would be similar. Which it is…. and it isn’t.

“White Ivy” is certainly about a social climbing schemer. Ivy Lin is our protagonist, and after being raised in a lower class and strict Chinese immigrant household, she has dreams of rising above. It’s true that she from the get go sets her sights on a rich former classmate, and it’s true that she has every intention of doing anything to be with him. But the issue is that “White Ivy” reads less like a thriller, and more like a character study of a damaged person who, being put in certain boxes because of her gender, culture, and race, wants to succeed in the world she has deemed ‘perfect’. Sort of a twist on the ‘immigrant experience’ story that is seen in literature. In some ways Ivy is conniving, but I felt that Yang wrote her with empathy and not really with that much judgement, at least not as much as the summary implies. Does Ivy do questionable/admittedly bad things to get ahead? Absolutely. But I felt that she came off more as an anti-heroine than anything else. And I liked that Yang wrote her that way. We get to see white male antiheroes in books all the time. Seeing a Chinese-American woman fit into this part is something that I don’t encounter nearly as much. Yang touches on the culture clash between Ivy and her parents and grandmother, as while Ivy was born in China, she has grown up in the U.S. (outside of being sent back for awhile after she was caught misbehaving). I thought that while Ivy’s parents definitely contributed to her problems, Yang also afforded them some grace as well, not painting them as just another antagonizing factor, but as complicated people.

Character study aside, outside of Ivy’s deeply fascinating characterization “White Ivy” follows a somewhat predictable route. Ivy finds herself caught between Gideon, a man who represents the ideal life and future she wants, and Roux, a bad boy from her past who stirs up passion, albeit a toxic kind. Following this escalating love triangle to dangerous places isn’t exactly new territory, and this is the only element where the ‘thriller’ aspect of the story comes into play. It has a slow build and escalation to be sure, but there weren’t any surprises that came out of it. I think that had Ivy not been such a good character with all the complexities and depths that she had, I would have been a little less forgiving of this. Her two lovers don’t really move outside of their tropes, Gideon being boring but dependable, and Roux being exciting but dangerous and violent. It also doesn’t read as much like a thriller as buzz and descriptions have promoted. There was one area of suspense for me, but I feel like you need more than one to be an actual ‘thriller’ novel.

Overall, I enjoyed “White Ivy” mostly because of Ivy herself. I think that if you go into it looking at it as a character study as opposed to a full on thriller, you’ll like it. I am intrigued by what Yang will do next.

Rating 7: A dark and fascinating character study and a twist on the ‘immigrant experience’ trope, “White Ivy” is a page turner with an anti-heroine you will probably root for despite your moral misgivings.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Ivy” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2020”, and “Romance Books with Asian Love Interests” (this may be a stretch but I think it applies).

Find “White Ivy” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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