Book Review: White Ivy by Susie Yang

White Ivy – Susie Yang (Simon & Schuster, 2020)

The blurb for this novel tells us that Ivy Lin is a thief and liar. And while these are certainly true of the main character of White Ivy, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Ivy Lin is someone who wants more. At a young age, while attending a prestigious private school, Ivy falls in love with Gideon Speyer. Their brief interactions and her glimpse into Gideon’s life tells her that this is what she wants. So when, years later, she meets Gideon again, she will do anything to make him hers. To make that life hers.

This is a book about social differences, economic classes, and what money can look like and make a person do. Ivy is an American immigrant. Born in China, she is left behind with her grandmother when her parents move to the United States. When they are reunited after years, the distance between the family members seems too great to ever breach. Like many first generation children, Ivy’s life looks entirely different from her parents and she is increasingly drawn to an American lifestyle, stealing for herself what her family cannot afford. Her only real friend is Roux, a boy in the neighbourhood, also the child of immigrants, but their friendship is complicated and rough.

When Ivy has a chance encounter with Gideon as an adult, she is eager to be with Gideon but, even more so, to finally enter into Gideon’s world. She is eager to be a part of the casual and historical family wealth that Gideon has – the summer cabin, the lavish parties, the subtly well-appointed townhouse. Gideon himself is kind to her but deeply restrained. Even as their relationship progresses, he never demonstrates passion toward Ivy, always seeming to hold her at arm’s length. Meanwhile, Ivy has her own deep secrets and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep them from Gideon.

While this isn’t exactly a thriller, the story is suspenseful, mostly driven forward by Ivy’s continued bad decisions. She’s a mess and there isn’t much in her character that makes you want to root for her. (I particularly find it stressful when characters make poor financial decisions so a lot of this book stressed me out!) Gideon seems like a good man but is so bland that it’s hard to care much about what happens to him. His final reveal, his great secret he has been harbouring, is so unshocking that while it does explain who he is a character, it doesn’t explain why he cares to keep it a secret.

Overall, White Ivy was an easy read, a bit of escapism, and a reminder be thankful for what I have.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: White Ivy by Susie Yang”

  1. I know what you mean about financial decisions stressing you out as a reader. I started a novel last night (I also DNF’d that novel last night) in which a character is so broke that all she’s eating is ramen and she’s about to lose her business, but she also goes to the bar every night for a $6 glass of white wine. Like, DUDE, that’s $30 a week, which can totally be groceries for one person.

    While I have not read the famous nonfiction book Maid, I know lots of people on Goodreads who hated the author’s story because her life involved a lot of shoddy financial decisions, but the book is about how she works in a low-paying job. Apparently, she gets $4,000 back from taxes and spends a big chunk of it on a diamond ring instead of visiting the doctor about an infection caused by black mold.

    1. Oh no, I couldn’t handle that! I know there are lots of reasons people make decisions like that but books where middle class people make wasteful decisions and then complain about not having money…I lose sympathy. I learned this when I tried to read the Shopaholic series😆

  2. hahaha i remember being stressed while reading this one too! And I was so sick of Gideon’s so obvious ‘secret’, I feel like, this day and age, he could have come out to his family and they will would have accepted him, so it seemed like a weird choice on his part to keep this hidden

  3. Great review! Sorry to see you were a little underwhelmed by this one, but I’m relieved it still sounds like a story I’d be interested in checking out despite its flaws- I’ve got a copy I’ve been meaning to read. One thing that really bothers me though is expecting a thriller and finding a perfectly decent example of slower suspense instead, so it’s good to know to adjust my expectations toward more of a character study than a shocking, twisty plot.

    1. It was still a quick, absorbing read so I’m sure you will find some enjoyment in it. But no, it’s not exactly a thriller and there isn’t really a mystery to it.

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