Faith, Hope, and Ivy June, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

06Oct09

I was dreading reading this book. I really was. I’m participating in a Mock Newbery Club at my local public library, and this book was on the list for the first meeting. The title didn’t seem appealing, and although I like Naylor’s other books, I wasn’t sure about this one.

Then I picked it up at the library. Whoever designed the cover should be scolded. It looks like, as my boyfriend said, “a Christian novel about finding the path to Jesus.” The cover features two girls carrying a picnic basket or cooler between them. They are walking down a flowered path in the forest, surrounded by muted tones and a feminine font with the book’s title.

Ick.

It looks like a book from the late 1980s or early 1990s. But it was published this year! Note to book packagers: this sort of packaging turns readers off. A better cover for Faith, Hope, and Ivy June would have been a simple monochromatic background with the outline of a mountain peak.

Now to the actual novel: Ivy June Mosley and Catherine Combs are both 7th-graders in Kentucky middle schools. They both live with their families. Ivy June lives in Thunder Creek, a tiny rural community with no phone lines, no running water, and a strong dependency on coal mining. Catherine lives in Lexington, “the city,” and she goes to a fancy private school. The two girls apply to an exchange program where they go live with each other for two weeks. That’s the premise.

Continue reading “Faith, Hope, and Ivy June, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor”

Ivy June goes to stay with Catherine first. It’s really difficult for Ivy June to assimilate into rich society because she isn’t used to the amenities that city life provides. Ivy June is a smart girl, however, and she holds her own.
The book develops into a rich, wonderful novel when Catherine goes to stay with Ivy June. She comes from a polite, genteel family, but she sort of breaks down when she realizes that she can’t wash her hair (they don’t have a shower), or check her e-mail (computers? what’s a computer?). A few terrible coincidences bring Ivy June and Catherine together, and show the reader that a family is more than just blood relation.

I absolutely loved this novel. What could have been overly saccharine or didactic was sweet and thoughtful. Naylor writes about the hill country in Kentucky with grace and skill. In fact, the hollow where Ivy June lives is a character of its own. This novel could have gone the way of stereotypes about hillbillies, rich people, and the Appalachians, but it doesn’t; each character is nuanced. Even Catherine’s step-grandmother, who acts despicably to Ivy June, isn’t painted as completely villainous. Shirley, Ivy June’s best friend, is one of the most believable characters in the novel. Shirley starts ignoring Ivy June after Catherine comes to stay in Thunder Creek, and her standoffish behavior made me think back to middle school.

Ivy June is definitely the main character here. Catherine chimes in every few chapters in the form of a journal entry; it’s interesting to see events from her point of view. However, Ivy June’s family and home life is the most important setting in the novel. Her mother, Ma, is critical of her dreams and aspirations; her sister, Jessie, is nineteen and works at the sweatshirt factory; her father is an out-of-work miner. Ivy June lives with her grandparents because there isn’t any more room in her parents house. Her Mammaw and Pappaw (grandmother and grandfather) are two of the most endearing characters I have ever encountered. They are “folksy,” but not in a stereotyped, stock character kind of way. They are wholesome and comfortable. Ivy June has to help take care of her Grandmommy (great-grandmother), and in these scenes, she is a mature, responsible adult waiting to spring out of adolescence.

I’m not sure if this will win the Newbery, but I highly recommend this novel for 6th-10th graders, especially girls. Also, this book will make you really hungry for fried chicken and biscuits, so stock up!

Link to Faith, Hope, and Ivy June on Amazon: hardcover.
Link to Phyllis Reynolds Naylor on Wikipedia: she’s prolific!

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