Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book Review: Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. (Grades 4-7.)
Full disclosure: Review copy provided by Random House.

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

When Ivy June Mosley of Thunder Creek, Kentucky signs up for an exchange student program, she's not sure what to expect. She'll spend two weeks in Lexington, KY with a girl named Catherine and her family. Then Catherine will stay with Ivy June in her small mountain town. Will Catherine be a snooty, rich Lexington girl with her own horse? And what will Catherine think of Thunder Creek and Ivy June's house with no indoor bathroom and a mile's walk to the bus stop for school?

The protagonist of this story is Ivy June, a spunky seventh-grader living with her grandparents in the coal mining town of Thunder Creek, Kentucky. This is really her story, though we get glimpses of Catherine's perspective through journal entries that both girls write as part of their exchange program. Ivy June lives in a tiny house with her grandparents and her great-grandmother. Her parents and four siblings live in another house just down the way. Catherine goes to a private school in Lexington. Her house has four bathrooms and she is driven to school each morning. The two girls obviously come from very different backgrounds and they'll have to let go of their prejudices and pride to really appreciate each others' worlds.

It was an interesting premise and, having recently relocated back to my Kentucky hometown, I knew this was a book I'd want to read. The story was okay. It kind of plods along for most of the book, somewhat interesting, but not huge in the plot department. I think the issue that dulled the book for me was that Ivy June and Catherine didn't have very distinct voices. And yeah, they faced some issues trying to get along in a different place, but for the most part the exchanges went very smoothly. Too smoothly to really be all that interesting.

Then came the end... You get a big rush of action at the very end (like, the last 50 pages). If only that action had come sooner, I think I would have liked the book more.

It's not that I didn't like it. It's just that it was fine and not particularly memorable to me. It's by a Newbery-award-winning author, which may garner some readers, but I think the book's biggest audience will be people from the regions in which the book is set.

And maybe it's just me because Booking Mama seems to totally disagree; she loved it. Also check out reviews at Eva's Book Addiction, Welcome to my Tweendom, and Reading to Myself.