I try to write these reviews as quickly as possible after finishing the novel. But sometimes it pays to wait.
A couple days ago I finished Ivy by Julie Hearn and at that stage I was ready to give it a poor review, along the lines of ‘Why did I waste my time?’ The book appeared pointless. The plot going nowhere. In the opening chapters Ivy was a cute 5 year old living in East London. Running away from her first day at school, she encounters a criminal gang whose specialty is enticing upper class children into alleys and robbing them of their clothes. Ivy looks so innocent that she is perfect bait, and thereby she gets her first job, and her first laudanum.
Then the action leaps ‘some years on’. Ivy is a young lady now, back with her family and hopelessly addicted to laudanum. She is spotted by a no-name Pre-Raphaelite painter who immediately wants her for his model. The family extracts her fee, and she is soon employed. Ho-hum. The painter’s mother is jealous of her beauty and attempts to kill Ivy. (Moderate interest).
When I finished the book I began to wonder about the author. Her previous book, The Merrybegot had been shortlisted for the Guardian Award, so the author couldn’t be all bad. A quick trip to the library, and I had a copy of the Merrybegot to read.
This second book had more plot, more action. And it had the advantage of a setting in the 17th century witch trials that took place in England and the American colonies, always a popular setting. The plot was familiar… ‘good’ girls for their own selfish reasons accuse the local healer, an old woman with a young apprentice, of witchcraft…the regional ‘expert’ arrives and collects the necessary evidence…the old healer dies and the young apprentice escapes…the ‘good’ girls avoid all unpleasant consequences for thier misbehavior. A familiar plot because it really happened again and again in ‘Christian’ Europe.
But Hearn gives the familiar tale a freshness. Everyone, including the minister’s daughters, encounters mythical beings in their daily lives, pixies, fairies, etc. These supernatural beings interact with our world in very real ways playing tricks, answering questions, protecting those who protect them. I can easily say that I really enjoyed this book.
So why was I bored by one book and delighted in the second? The more that I thought about Hearn’s writing the more I began to understand what a wonderful gift she has made available to today’s children. I believe Julie Hearn has the amazing ability to portray young girl’s lives through history in a way that honestly and realistically explains the powerlessness of females in society for most of Western Civilisation. Many other authors give their historical female characters a modern personality and modern social values. This may be an attempt to make the characters more real for the modern reader. But Julie Hearn keeps her characters true to their historical context. Ivy wanted to leave modeling and work with her friend in the first Lost Dog’s Home, but her family forced her to continue because she was their primary breadwinner. This force included kidnapping. Nell, the merrybegot, is blamed for the death of a baby simply because she attended the birth as an unmarried midwife.
I’ll be watching for more books by this author.