April 17, 2013

What Happened to Ivy

by Kathy Stinson
Second Story Press
146 pp.
Ages 14-17

What Happened to Ivy is just as easily a question as it is a statement about the narrative within the covers of Kathy Stinson's newest book, selected as one of two Honour Books for the 2013 Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book of the Year.

Ivy is the eleven-year-old sister of David, and the center of their family's world.  Ivy has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound, and her needs for costly meds, equipment, physio and other therapy, as well as for constant attention to dangerous seizures, behaviour and general care infuses every moment of their lives.  David, fifteen, doesn't resent Ivy or the effects her needs have on his life; but he doesn't appreciate his parents' treatment of him as a lackey rather than a son.
Unless they need me to do something, it's like I'm not even here. (pg. 27)
David is delighted when an old friend of his mother's moves in, with her daughter Hannah, to the house across the street from them.  He's even more encouraged when Hannah seems to want to spend time with him, especially since he begins thinking about her in terms beyond just friendship.  When Hannah is invited to accompany the family to the cottage, David is hopeful that she will add some lightness to the sombre atmosphere of his family's anticipation of Ivy's next operation.  And if he gets a bit of alone time with her, all the better.

Similarly, Hannah seems to enjoy being around the Burkes, particularly since she has no siblings and her dad who left when she was 7 gives the impression that he is oblivious to her.  In fact, Hannah notes how impressed she is by the familiar affection and concern they all have for Ivy, specifically remarking what a wonderful father Mr. Burke is to his daughter.

But the visit to the cottage changes everything.  Ivy has a severe seizure while in the water in her father's arms (her way of swimming) and all attempts to revive her are unsuccessful.  Then the questions begin.

Kathy Stinson depicts the tragedy of Ivy's death in the context of speculation as to its nature.  Shockingly, even Ivy's dad begins to question what happened to her and his role in her death.  Could he have done something to change the results?  Was he negligent?  Was he consciously thinking about Ivy's life?  When he gives voice to his questions, sharing them with his wife, and David overhears, an additional layer of emotion washes over their grief.  Each begins to question their feelings for Ivy.

At 146 pages, What Happened to Ivy is relatively short for a young adult novel and I suspect that it's because Kathy Stinson does not feel the need to wrap the story in layers upon layers of descriptive text and subplots to enhance the primary storyline.  Its bare bones are strong enough to support a complex examination of humanity and the connections that are strained when a much-loved child with physical challenges dies.  Without criticizing or defending any attitudes, Kathy Stinson allows compassion to steer the questions and the telling of What Happened to Ivy.

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