Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World centres around Ivy Aberdeen, a 12 year old whose house was just destroyed in a hurricane and she lost everything except her notebook and her pillow.
Ivy and her family go to the local school gymnasium while they figure out what to do now they don't have a house. Ivy spends time with the local doctor's daughter and teaches her draw, and Ivy begins to wonder if she has a crush on this girl, the same way her best friend has a crush on a boy in their grade. When Ivy realises she has lost the notebook containing all of her most personal drawings, some that hint at her feelings towards other girls, Ivy becomes desperate to find the notebook. When she returns to school, she finds notes stuffed into her locker each morning, along with one of the drawings from her lost notebook, the author of the notes refuses to return the notebook but encourages Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings. This mysterious author becomes a support system in a strange way, as the end of the book approaches, Ivy becomes brave enough to address her feelings about other girls.
Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World is a middle grade, and is written very much with that target audience in mind, however I found that I loved the writing and the message more than I expected to. This is the kind of book I wish I'd read when I was twelve years old. Ashley Herring Blake takes what can be an awfully lonely experience, that of a young person questioning their sexuality, and makes it into a beautifully written book full of vivid imagery and lyrical prose. I will definitely be reading more of Ashley Herring Blake's work in the future as her writing is truly beautiful and evocative. The writing in this novel showed me that just because a book is aimed at Middle Grade it doesn't have to shy away from using beautiful imagery and prose.
The main character is a loveable and highly relatable character for me, I felt every ounce of her angst as a young person struggling to accept their sexuality. Ivy's family is a bit less loveable and are sources of tension and sadness for her. This conflict highlights the importance of supportive friends and other trusted adults in a young person's life, however by the end of the book the family realises how they have forgotten Ivy in all the mess of losing their home and a variety of other challenges they've faced since. Ivy's friends are a mixed bunch but they become very loveable and have such unique voices and character development that it's hard not to relate to them. I found myself thinking back to when I was 12 years old and the kind of friends I had then.
The setting of this book reads as a small town and there aren't many environments/settings that are vividly described, this book is very much character driven but the lack of description adds to the feeling that you are in Ivy's head and living life through her eyes. Twelve year olds rarely have an inner monologue describing their school classroom or their best friend's house. This 'lack' of description added to the feeling you knew Ivy personally.
I loved this book for attempting (and succeeding) at showing what it's like to be questioning your sexuality at an age when most of your friends are becoming interested in people of the opposite gender. I loved how Ashley Herring Blake wrote about Ivy's conflict between her feelings for her friend and what she thought she should be feeling. I could definitely relate to Ivy and other reviews I've read have said that the author absolutely nailed the feeling of loneliness that seems to be so present when one is struggling with feeling like an outsider.
There's not much to criticise in this book in all honesty. If I had to say one thing, I would say that the ending was rather abrupt and didn't give me the kind of resolution I expected. I don't mean that in terms of the outcome for the characters, I mean that I felt that Blake's writing led to me believe that the ending would be written in a much more lyrical, meaningful way but it just sort of... happened. However considering this book is more of a slice of life novel and not about a grand adventure I suppose that's quite fitting. Rarely do we have moments of self discovery that are book ended with grand conclusions, we just go on with our lives with this new knowledge of a piece of ourselves.
Overall, I really loved this book and would highly recommend it for anyone aged 10+, there's no swearing, drinking or inappropriate behaviour and the characters are all very relatable. Anyone who grew up as the middle child will definitely relate to Ivy, and anyone who ever questioned their sexuality with relate to her on a level that might bring tears to your eyes at points. I know I cried once or twice. I will definitely be reading more from Ashley Herring Blake in the future.