I listened to the audiobook of this one, and I have to say, from the very first word read aloud, I was riveted. I didn’t have to go back once to catch something I missed, which is a rarity. And this book is so bold and memorable that it will stay with me for a long time.
Ivy moves to the U.S. from China at the age of five, and she develops a middle-school crush on Gideon, a young member of the New England gentry who seems to be the very opposite of her own immigrant family. She also comes to know a boy named Roux, who lives next to her in their lower-class neighborhood. Some years later, when Ivy is a young adult, these two boys - now men - will represent a choice about what her future will be.
As a character, Ivy is both infuriating and heartbreaking. I found myself wanting to simultaneously slap her upside the head and root for her. The book seems to be an allegory that explores the push and pull of the immigrant experience: the warring internal impulses to stay true to one’s own culture and ancestry versus the feeling that one must assimilate and disappear into the surrounding culture.
But it also has strong similarities to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in that Ivy is relentless in her need to social climb to the point of self-destruction. She is desperate to ‘rise above’ her Chinese family and worm her way into the New England blue bloods who, to her, signify success and higher breeding.
This is primarily literary fiction with some elements of a slow-burning thriller. The main character is unreliable and terribly narcissistic, but she’s such an interesting vehicle for an exploration of issues around race and class.