Measuring only 5x7 and at 146 pages, What Happened to Ivy is a small book; but it has a big story with an even bigger message. David is a somewhat awkward teenager who loves gardening and studying the varieties of flowers and trees, he has an enormous crush on his neighbor Hannah, and he believes the only time his parents are reminded of his existence is when they need his help with his little sister, Ivy. Ivy is 11 years old; and her cerebral palsy, surgeries, and seizures have confined her to a wheelchair. She is in diapers, and her speech can be hard for some to understand. At times, she has been a source of embarrassment to David in front of his friends – which is why he no longer has any – but Ivy absolutely adores her big brother. And despite his complaints, David adores her, too. Even when he has his moments of wondering what life might be like without her, he truly does love his sister and is often amazed by the things she says and the way she sees the world. But everything is always about Ivy. Her needs come first. She’s always there, disrupting his life... and then she isn’t. When Ivy drowns, David’s world is torn apart by the sudden loss.
His thought process through this tragedy and his grief are very realistic. Whether its things he feels he shouldn’t be thinking or remembering times with Ivy he wishes he wouldn’t, one thing is for certain… he loved his little sister, and life without her is not a life he wants at all. But then suspicions arise and fingers are pointed at a member of his family, and David finds himself wrestling with the truth about his sister’s death.
This is such an important book – one that belongs in school libraries and classrooms. It is an intense subject matter but written in a comfortable, pleasantly simplistic style that makes it perfectly suitable for middle graders and younger teens. There are things in this book that can be applied to more than a sibling with disabilities… they demonstrate how important the roles of patience and compassion are for anyone who helps with caregiving or loves someone who requires support and is dependent on others. This book does have an open ending, but for this particular story, it really works. An admirable book that tackles love, loss, and surviving heartbreak from the perspective of a young person.
This book is intended for ages eleven and up, but I feel this is one of those stories that readers of all ages could appreciate and learn from. The writing style is unique from what I normally read but fit the story and the main character very well. I found this story so compelling. I adored Ivy; she was such a bright character and brought so much happiness to the story, but her bad days and the aftermath of her death were heart-breaking to read about. I really felt for David. He has a lot more responsibility than most kids his age. I felt that his thoughts and actions were very realistic for a teenage boy, especially one dealing with so much. But he honestly did love his sister; that was clear, even if he felt she made his life difficult at times. Another thing I did like about David was his love of gardening. That is something I can relate to – and yes, not a lot of teens enjoy it, but I loved reading about one who did, even if he was fictional.
There were a lot of other aspects of this book that drew me in, as well, such as David’s parents and Hannah. They all had their own stories; and while I would have really liked to get to know them all better (especially Hannah), I liked that the focus was not on them. This is David’s story, and these are David’s thoughts. Because David’s feelings are so raw and conflicting, when it comes to his descriptions of those around him and their actions, I wonder if he is a bit of an unreliable narrator. But that’s another thing that makes it realistic; the reader really gets to experience the story through the eyes of this teenage boy.
What Happened to Ivy is a very fast read but one that moves at a perfect pace. It’s such an important story about patience, understanding, and healing; and I’m grateful to have read it.
Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this book in exchange for our honest reviews.