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  • Mandy McHugh

White Ivy, Susie Yang: A Review

I was pleased to receive an eARC of White Ivy after reading the intriguing synopsis. The cover is quite captivating, and I love a good love triangle, so I was all in.

Ivy Lin is a Chinese immigrant. She spends the first few years of her life being raised by her grandmother until her parents save enough to bring her to a small town in Massachusetts. There, she quickly realizes how different she is from her classmates and develops a preoccupation with gaining their approval. She strikes up an oil-and-water friendship with Roux based on their mutual pastime (stealing) but when her parents find out she lies about going to a party, they send Ivy to China for the summer and move the family to New Jersey. Years later, a chance encounter causes her to cross paths with her childhood crush's sister, and the two are reunited, kindling a romance that is everything Ivy's always dreamed of. From there, things steamroll, until a week getaway aligns a different set of stars, entangling her once again with Roux. I stewed on this review for a few days because I wanted to figure out my thoughts. First, I was expecting this read to be much more nefarious than it was. There's a lot of exposition and storytelling, and I appreciated the depth that Yang brought to Ivy's character. Her troubles go beyond insecurities. Ivy is deeply troubled and fixates on the construct of white beauty. She emulates her classmates behaviors, models her appearance after the "popular" girls, and goes to drastic lengths to achieve her preconceived idea of happiness. There's an edge to Ivy that often crosses the border to disturbing, but she never really manifests as a creepy individual. More than anything, Ivy's story feels tragic, and the love triangle that unravels feels poetic, Shakespearean to some extent. Yang's prose is literary and elegant with a dose of solid unease underlining her words. Roux and Gideon are two interesting fellows, let me tell you. Complex in their flaws, yet polarized as two prime "objects of affection," Yang expertly weaves the love triangle to have you rooting for one or the other. I'm not sure I was ever really rooting for Ivy to end up with either, but my penchant for triangles is more in the execution than the result. I wanted Ivy to acknowledge her own extremes, and in a way, she does, with the quiet yet loaded conclusion. But. I wanted more. I wanted more suspense, I wanted more of a sinister nature to emerge in Ivy's desperation to please her parents, herself, her fiance, her fiance's parents. I wanted to be glued to my seat as she encounters an ultimatum, but ultimately, I wasn't surprised by Ivy's actions. While there's more at work here in a literary sense, I was hoping for one super unnerving scene that would leave an impact and was instead given a mildly-climatic scene. In terms of its place in the current market, I think White Ivy is layered and full of things to unpack. Identity, particularly as its concerned with immigrants. Beauty standards and how they differ depending on region. Where is the line drawn between determined and problematic? How much do ours pathologies dictate the course of our lives? Yang's prose is wrought with social commentary and insightful critique of how we approach the concept of the Other. I particularly appreciated the micro-moments where we're acutely aware of how much Ivy has been affected by her own obsession with acceptance. The cat in the beach house, the wardrobe, the daily beauty regimens. This made me reflect on my own internal gaze-markers and re-examine the assumptions I make about beauty and identity. Overall, this is a dense read that covers relevant issues through Ivy's interactions with the people in her life, but I wanted more in terms of suspense. I'd recommend this to anyone who's looking for an issues-heavy fiction with beautiful language. Strange and slightly disturbing, White Ivy will be a good addition to your TBRs. Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

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