White Ivy by Susie Yang
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
“White Ivy” by Susie Yang should have been amazing. And it almost was.
It’s billed as a story about a troubled Chinese-born teen who struggles to fit into the WASPy Boston suburbs. She acts out, steals, and finally gets caught attending an illicit party at the home of the boy she has crush on. Her parents send off to China for the summer to stay with relatives. She returns to find her family has moved to a new city where she should be able to make a new start. But all Ivy ever wants is to return to Boston to start again at the moment when she was wrenched away from her middle school crush.
Lo and behold, that happens. She grows up and moved to Boston. Serendipitously, she reconnects with the crush, a now-successful entrepreneur named Gideon from an old money family. She also reconnects with a childhood friend named Roux. Also an immigrant, Roux has achieved enormous wealth through less legitimate means.
Ivy gets engaged to Gideon but cheats on him with Roux. Neither relationship is any good; Gideon is detached and unreachable, Roux is possessive and violent.
This story deals with a lot of themes that make for good books. Old money versus new money. Family of birth versus family of your choosing. Immigrants versus establishment Americans. And, of course, it touches on the fascinating stories of Chinese people who lived through the Maoist revolution and eventually escaped to America.
You know what this book absolutely did not need in it’s final chapters? A murder and a revelation that someone has been gay all along.
Look, I can tolerate a lot in the name of literature. I didn’t mind that Ivy was selfish and unlikable. Her complete lack of self-awareness was useful for moving the story along. She was an empty vessel. Her life was a quest for fulfillment but she didn’t know what would fill her up.
When she reached a crisis point where she needed to choose between Gideon and Roux, she should have had a reckoning about her own failings. Instead she pushed Roux off a cliff and killed him.
What? No. Murder is not a good way to tie up loose ends. It’s lazy writing and it took me out of any belief I had in the story. All I could think was that Yang created Roux for the express purpose of pushing him off a cliff later. Maybe that’s why he felt underdeveloped; he was never expected to survive the entire book.
If that wasn’t enough, Ivy gets to her wedding day only to realize that Gideon has been gay the whole time. She is his beard but she never knew. Rather than deal with that deep lie, she just…marries him.
Why? Why did Gideon need to be gay? Was that supposed to be a twist? It fell flat. I could easily accept Gideon as simply remote. I could believe Ivy was so attached to her middle-school dream of a life that she would marry a man who was more symbol than spouse. Making him gay and secretly in love with his best friend was just…pointless.
I’m not sure what the process was for the final quarter of this novel but if an editorial team was looking at it and hollering “Yes! This will keep readers guessing!” they misjudged. This reader wasn’t wowed by the final bombshells. I was just annoyed by them.
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White Ivy by Susie Yang