"Ivy" by Sarah Oleksyk

Ivy Stenova is a difficult person to like. She fights with her mom, she interrupts Math class and yells at the teacher, she ignores her friends and talks too much about herself, and on top of everything is getting into drugs and sex.  She seems like she has somewhat of a brain. I mean, she’s pretty good at Jeopardy, and she’s talented at drawing and she seems like she wants to explore the world and learn something – she just doesn’t know what it is.  But she’s so moody, and yells all the time, and if I didn’t know her very well, I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. I mean, why should I, if most of her friends don’t?

In fact, Ivy is the hero of the eponymous book by Sarah Oleksyk.  It tells the story of a small town girl who’s about to graduate from high school, and is going through some issues, hoping for what most people hope for: a chance to do what she loves to do (draw), to meet someone she likes and who likes her back, and to have some self-determination over her destiny.

Ivy, as a person, isn’t very much fun to be around. It’s a testament to Oleksyk’s skill as a story-teller that I finished the book “Ivy.”  She brings the reader into Ivy’s world quickly and gives her enough sympathetic moments that you start to feel for her as a living person, rather than lines and words on a page.  As Ivy begins to fall further into a potentially dangerous situation you’re hooked, and you have to read the rest of the book to find out whether she makes it all right.  Similar to life, the story doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, it just has a satisfying resolution to this phase that Ivy’s going through.

In the story Ivy goes to "Portfolio Day" where she shows her work to various art schools. She's told repeatedly that she needs to learn her anatomy and work on drawing the human figure. I don't know if this is drawn from Oleksyk's personal history, but she seems to have mastered the art of conveying the human figure in her book.  She makes the layouts look effortless while the characters are not only consistently rendered, but with a spark of life in them that makes them believable.  I especially liked some of the wordless sequences, such as the page where Ivy receives the acceptance letter from DeVere University. It's rendered as a wake-up slap, and then we see Ivy's excitement, and eventually her glow as she realizes she's literally been accepted.  In this sequence we see her from all different angles: sometimes just her feet, her hands, the back of her head.  The frames are nearly all the same size, but the camera shot is varied so we get the full impact of Ivy's astonishment, excitement, and then calm.

Bottom line, I liked "Ivy," but it was a hard time liking Ivy. My wife liked the character a lot more - she said that Oleksyk hits the target with this teenage girl. Maybe I just don't have the same perspective. But, by the end of the book I cared for Ivy, and that's a testament to Oleksyk's skill as an author and artist.

"Ivy" by Sarah Oleksyk has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of best "Graphic Literature."  You can learn more about Oleksyk's at her website http://www.saraholeksyk.com, although it looks slightly abandoned.  As an added bonus, you can read the first chapter of "Ivy" online here. Oleksyk's twitter handle is https://twitter.com/#!/sarahohmygod.

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