Monday, April 18, 2011

Enchanting to meet you...

From the website/jacket cover for Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst:

A story about getting into college. You know, taking the campus tour, talking to the gargoyles, flirting with the were-tigers, riding the dragons...

While visiting the campus of Princeton University, 16-year-old Lily discovers a secret gate to a magical realm and must race against time to save herself, her world, and any hope she has of college admission.

It’s Class Reunion weekend at Princeton and Lily’s grandfather has invited Lily and her mother along for the first time. Finally it’s a chance for Lily to visit the university of her admission dreams and to have a break from being the child of a woman who regularly experiences “brain hiccups” – hiccups that have obscured her mind so completely that she cannot even remember her marriage to, or the subsequent death of, Lily’s father.

With their arrival on campus, grandfather reveals that this is not just a weekend away, but Lily’s chance to win her way into Princeton. To do so she must pass the test set forth by his fellow members of the Vineyard club. Simple really, just a scavenger hunt. And if she fails? Well, she’s still welcome to apply through admissions. A win-win situation, right?

But then the boy with the tiger striped hair shows up and the campus gargoyles start moving and talking. Her mom’s remaining sanity is fast depleting and if Lily wants to keep her focused on the here and now, then she’s got to find this Ivy Key. But that’s kind of hard to do when she might be experiencing “brain hiccups” of her own.

I’ve previously read Sarah Beth Durst’s Wild series – Into the Wild and Out of the Wild – and enjoyed her ability to take the fairytales that Disney taught us and twist them back to their darker origins. She does this even while acknowledging the greater truth: in real life heroes can often be villains and villains can sometimes save the day. It all depends on who is telling the story.

As with the Wild series, Durst uses pre-existing mythological creatures – fairies, dryads, were-animals, and gargoyles – but adds them to the world and mythology many of us would not be familiar with: the history and architecture of Princeton. The gates and gargoyles of Princeton animate to help guide Lily through her adventures and into other worlds, while working within the confines of established Princeton lore. This gives a rather unique spin on the creatures that inhabit much of the Young Adult literature being written today. (Gargoyles do not get nearly enough love if you ask me.)

When I first heard about Enchanted Ivy, I thought that this would be aimed at an older (read YA) audience. While Lily is definitely older than Julie from the Wild series, in some ways she reads the same age. Part of this is due, I’m sure, to the isolation Lily experiences having a mother known for her eccentricities and moments of crazy. What small glimpses we are given of Lily’s pre-Princeton weekend life, are of a girl who is shunned by the other students and spends her non-school hours taking care of her mother. This has caused her to miss out on many benchmarks that other high school students in their Junior year would have experienced. Still, given that she has been taking care of her mother, I didn’t expect her to read as young as she did. Especially since she too worries about suffering from her mother’s mental illness.

That said, Enchanted Ivy was a quick, fun read that would work as a great transition book for Middle Age readers looking for a gateway into YA or a light, but mythology filled novel for older readers looking for entertainment on a sunny afternoon. The violence of the fight scenes rank low on the scare scale and Lily’s romantic interactions with the two male protagonists go no hotter than a kiss each. Tye, the tiger haired boy, does vibe a little too heavily on the “but we’re soul mates” side of things, but not to the point of restricting Lily’s activities or other stalkerish (read: Edward-ian) traits.

Sometime this summer when it finally warms up, I’ll probably be adding her other novel, Ice, to my reading list. The idea of a modern day adaption of the fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” that includes arctic travel sounds like just the thing once the weather actually hits the 80s.

You can purchase Enchanted Ivy from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: I picked this up at the fantastic branch of my local library. My library rocks! Congrats on the new book scanners, guys.

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