Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: The Ivy by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur

Tags: YA, college


California girl Callie is about to start her freshman year at Harvard and is ready to take the campus by storm! The trouble is, she feels totally out of her league amongst the beautiful, poised, and well-connected student body. Two of her three roommates, Mimi and Vanessa, know more about fashion and making connections in their left big toe than Callie does. (Her fourth roommate, Dana, is a super-prudish, super-religious Southern girl. Great.)

On top of academics and social mobility, Callie also has to worry about several very different, yet all very appealing guys. There’s Matt, the super-sweet boy-next-door who shares Callie’s interest in journalism; Gregory, Matt’s hot jerkface of a womanizing roommate, whom Callie unfortunately finds herself thinking about more often than she’d like; and finally, Clint, gorgeous, sweet, a gentleman, popular, perfect, and an upperclassman.

What’s a freshman at Harvard to do?


Let’s start by placing my poised, semi-professional reviewer mode aside and putting on the hat of my other half, that of an aggrieved college-aged YA reader. In this alternate, blogging- and review-free world, Steph would say that these sorts of books, these seemingly “in-depth” looks into college life, piss her off to no end. People getting into Harvard, only to not care about academics at all and instead focusing all their time on partying, befriending the right people, and boy drama? Are you serious? How did you get into that school in the first place? I’m so exasperated I’ll probably throw something against a wall (preferably the book and not the laptop upon which I’m writing this). I hate that these types of books claim to portray the reality of college life. Actually, college has become simply another setting for the petty “boarding school drama” YA books, except that, with the elevated age group, you can now talk about sex, drinking, drugs, and more! And you still don’t have to worry about parents! Or (God forbid) classes! Woohoo!

Someone stab me.

It’s along those lines that I absolutely cannot get behind Callie as the protagonist with whom we’re supposed to sympathize. This supposedly smart, talented, and high-achieving au naturelle arrives on campus, only to have her mental capacities reduced to that of a hormonal 13-year-old as she falls into fashion insecurities and obsesses about boys. Oh, but I guess since this book is set at college, this isn’t another installment in the Clique series. Guess I missed that memo. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was part of the 3% in her year who won’t graduate from Harvard.

Callie’s dippiness at odds with her supposed intelligence is reinforced by the choppy writing. It’s unclear what point of view this book is written in. It starts out third-person limited, in Callie’s POV, but then occasionally pops over into Callie’s roommates’ heads before staggering back “home” to Callie’s. Uh, perhaps the authors were trying to emulate a Victorian novel panoramic (i.e. omniscient) narration? I’d have no problem with this, even if it is a risk in the current YA world, akin to third-person present tense, or even first-person present tense sometimes. The problem comes when that intention is not made clear; then the narratorial choice only seems sloppy, the mark of an amateur writer.

As another example of the clunky writing, take any scene from any party where drinks are served and the characters drink. Suddenly, time ceases to exist. Dialogue tags go into hiding. Words become more rhythm and less coherence. Now, all of this could actually be sort of cool, a literary expression of being wasted. But the rest of the narration is not tight enough for this literary exercise to win me over. I mean, sometimes the narrator talks to us, the reader. As in, “As you should know, reader…” statements. As in, something you probably shouldn’t do EVER in fiction, something taught to basic-level creative writing students. Argh.

I could probably go on for longer about the petty plot, or the way one guy in particular is about the only thing I enjoyed reading about in this book (even though, in certain ways, he’s pretty cliché; what can I say? I like my bad boys). But I’ll leave it there. My hope is that reading my review will help you realize whether or not this book is something for you. Don’t get me wrong: I like books set in college, as well as the occasional juicy, Gossip Girl-esque dramas (I have a weak spot for Zoey Dean’s books, after all). But THE IVY was flawed in ways that unfortunately cheapened the whole reading experience for me.

Cover discussion: About the best thing I like about the cover is the tagline (even though I don't believe the book deserves it). But otherwise... what is the impression I'm supposed to be getting from this shiny, foiled cover? It doesn't speak to the scandals, or the glitter, or the drama. It's just... shiny. In a way that the actual story is not.

Greenwillow Books / Aug. 31, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

ARC picked up at BEA. Sorry.


  1. Thanks for the review. I figured The Ivy would be about like that. Have you read Pretty On The Outside or the Lauren Conrad books. The former is a British boarding school book that was far too Gossip Girl-ish for me. The latter I've stayed away from because I've assumed they'll be too shallow, but I'm still curious.
    Alison Can Read

  2. Argh, those kinds of books drive me crazy. Not only because it's a book that's only concerned with partying, sex, and drama, but the whole narration issue as well. When done intentionally, you can do neat things (D.H. Lawrence's Quetzalcoatl comes to mind.)

    Poor writing is a pet peeve, but I can sometimes get over it if the characters or story win me over. Doesn't look like The Ivy delivers on that front either.

    I was already steering clear of this title, but now I know to stay faarrr away,

  3. I had a lot of the same problems you had with this book. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

  4. All I can say is....word.

    How the heck did this thing get published?

  5. I thought the same thing as you and the POV shifts drove me CRAZY. One thing I was also confused about is why the second 'author' was credited as an author, when she only actually helped map out the plot.

  6. LOL Steph, tell us how you really feel! I love your honest reviews. I haven't read The Ivy, I wasn't sure if I wanted to and I kind of a had a personal bias against it only because it's set at Harvard and as a Cornellian, the only thing we dislike more than freezing our butts off on the way to class is Harvard! ;)

  7. I just felt like there was WAY too much going on with The Ivy. I sort of got lost with the whole story line.

    Also, I am with you on the whole, how the hell do you have that much time to party and pass classes?

    I mean, yeah I partied in college, but only on the weekends as a reward for getting good grades.

  8. Yeah, I was a bit bothered too by "How did you all get into this school if you're skipping classes, partying all the time, and being, well, kinda stupid?"

    I did enjoy the book though; it was a fun, light read for me. Some of the things you mention didn't bother me at all; most of the time, I just thought it was an interesting way of doing things.

  9. This sounds painful. Great to read such an honest and candid review though. I like some Gossip-Girl-ish books too, but only if they're really well done.

  10. Thank you for making my decision about this book easy! It sounds like i would really dislike it

  11. I feel so much better...I had to stop reading this today...I hated it...and I bought it!!! I never stop reading books but this book made me crazy...I did not have a clue where it was headed...thanks so much for making me feel righteous about not liking this book...I thought it was just me...

  12. Wow, that sounds like something I'd prefer to stay away from! As a fellow student, it also makes me crazy in books or tv when YA get into high profile college but never put actual work in it. Huh!

  13. That doesn’t sound like the Harvard I attended. The main reason I chose to go there was for the intellectual conversations in the dorm rooms. There wasn’t a lot of partying compared to other colleges, but the libraries were hopping!

    I appreciated your in depth analysis and the fact that you saved me from what appears to be drivel. Unfair Harvard?

  14. Oh my goodness, Steph, I love your honesty! It's so funny because I just read a raving review of this book earlier tonight...I guess everyone certainly does have their own opinion. I really wanted to read this one until I saw your review, but I think I may read it just to see what I think. Thanks for your honesty!

  15. Eek! Definitely steering far clear of this one. I have no problem with silliness and dramz, either, a la Pretty Little Liars, but I have a feeling this one would have me mocking it for years.

  16. Yikes! I've got an egalley of this (which might actually be expired now that the book is out) but I think I'm going to go ahead and skip it.


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