Summary and book reviews of White Ivy by Susie Yang

White Ivy

by Susie Yang

White Ivy by Susie Yang X
White Ivy by Susie Yang
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  • Published:
    Nov 2020, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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About this Book

Book Summary

From prizewinning Chinese American author Susie Yang, this dazzling coming-of-age novel about a young woman's dark obsession with her privileged classmate offers sharp insights into the immigrant experience.

Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you'd never know it by looking at her.

Raised outside of Boston, Ivy's immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy's mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy's mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon's sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.

Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she's ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she's worked so hard to build.

Filled with surprising twists and a nuanced exploration of class and race, White Ivy is a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.

Chapter 11

IVY LIN WAS A THIEF but you would never know it to look at her. Maybe that was the problem. No one ever suspected—and that made her reckless. Her features were so average and nondescript that the brain only needed a split second to develop a complete understanding of her: skinny Asian girl, quiet, overly docile around adults in uniforms. She had a way of walking, shoulders forward, chin tucked under, arms barely swinging, that rendered her invisible in the way of pigeons and janitors.

Ivy would have traded her face a thousand times over for a blue-eyed, blond-haired version like the Satterfield twins, or even a redheaded, freckly version like Liza Johnson, instead of her own Chinese one with its too-thin lips, embarrassingly high forehead, two fleshy cheeks like ripe apples before the autumn pickings. Because of those cheeks, at fourteen years old, she was often mistaken for an elementary school student—an unfortunate hindrance in everything except thieving, in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. After finishing the novel, reexamine the title. What do you think it refers to? In what ways can the title be interpreted?
  2. The novel is both a thriller with plot twists and social commentary on the "model minority" myth. How does Susie Yang meld these usually disparate genres?
  3. Since middle school, Ivy values appearances and decorum. She believes that "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear" (p. 39). She wants others to think that she is morally upright, and she is ashamed when Roux catches her stealing. Why do you think Ivy values the appearance of propriety? How much of it is from her family and how much of it is from her environment?
  4. Meifeng shares with Ivy the story about how her parents got together. Years later, Ivy learns new ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

For Ivy, the assimilation process is the site of a schism between who she was as a child in China and the hyphenated version of herself that develops in America. The novel details how much of her life is spent negotiating and trying to reconcile these parts of herself. It is truly a white-knuckle ride. White Ivy has been described as a thriller, a dark romance, a coming-of-age story and more. This excellent and thought-provoking novel is as difficult to classify and unpredictable as Ivy herself. But one thing is certain — readers won't soon forget it, nor its complex protagonist, Ivy Lin...continued

Full Review Members Only (776 words).

(Reviewed by Debbie Morrison).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Yang presents dialogue and scenes, but just as moments begin to open up toward tension — the book is rife with opportunities for tension — she skips past them. We get summary or moral after the fact...White Ivy is chock-full of compelling, exciting ideas. What it does not quite do is give the reader access to the experiences that might portray those ideas effectively in the context of a narrative. We’re not given the particular opportunity that fiction can make space for to reconsider them anew.

Washington Post
Even in the absence of more incisive social commentary, White Ivy is still a highly entertaining, well-plotted character study about a young woman whose obsession with the shallow signifiers of success gets her in too deep.

Kirkus Reviews
The intelligent, yearning, broken, and deeply insecure Ivy will enthrall readers, and Yang's beautifully written novel ably mines the complexities of class and privilege. A sophisticated and darkly glittering gem of a debut.

Booklist (starred review)
Yang's dark, spellbinding debut gives insight into the immigrant experience and life in the upper class, challenging the stereotypes and perceptions associated with both. The surprising twists, elegant prose, and complex characters in this coming-of-age story make this a captivating read.

Library Journal (starred review)
What begins as a story of a young woman's struggles to assimilate quickly becomes a much darker tale of love, lies, and obsession, in which there are no boundaries to finding the fulfillment of one's own dreams. Yang's skill in creating surprising, even shocking plot twists will leave readers breathless.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]xcellent...In Ivy, Yang has created an ambitious and sharp yet believably flawed heroine who will win over any reader, and the accomplished plot is layered and full of revelations. This is a beguiling and shattering coming-of-age story.

Author Blurb Lucy Tan, author of What We Were Promised
White Ivy is dark and delicious. Ivy Lin eviscerates the model minority stereotype with a smile on her lips and a boot on your neck. Cancel your weekend plans, because you won't be able to take your eyes off Ivy Lin.

Author Blurb Joshua Ferris, prize-winning author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
White Ivy is magic and a necessary corrective both to the stereotypes and the pieties that too easily characterize the immigrant experience. Most pleasing of all is the story of Ivy Lin, a daring young woman in search of herself, and not soon to be forgotten.

Reader Reviews

techeditor

I came to detest Ivy.
WHITE IVY begins when Ivy is a child. She is Chinese but wants to be white and hang out with the white crowd at school. When she spends one summer in China, at first with rich relatives, she develops a high opinion of herself and a hankering for the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Ting Hua: Obedience and Filial Piety in Chinese American Parental Relationships

Of all the demands made of Susie Yang's character Ivy in her debut novel White Ivy, few are more pernicious than the constant demand that she be ting hua, or a "good" girl. For Ivy, to be ting hua means, more than anything else, obscuring her individuality and right to self-determination so that her family can see the version of her they are most comfortable with.

In an article for Vice, writer Doris Lam explains how this concept of "filial piety — a traditional Chinese moral value where children should respect, love and take care of parents to give back and honour them," can have a negative impact on first-generation children. Acculturation is the process whereby a person becomes assimilated — adopts behaviors that will ...

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