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.