CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 12. . . .November 23, 2012.
To her list of already impressive accomplishments, Kathy Stinson adds the distinction of taking on one of the most controversial social issues of our time—and tackling it in a novel published for a young adult audience. Her latest book, What Happened to Ivy, provides a thoughtful, nuanced exploration of mercy killing for readers aged 14 through 17.
The story unfolds from the perspective of David, a teenage boy as preoccupied with his growing crush on the girl next door, Hannah, as he is frustrated with having to shape his entire life around his severely disabled younger sister, Ivy. Within this stew of adolescent emotions, David’s summer progresses as a seemingly typical Canadian’s might. He has a break from school. He works in his garden. He goes to his cottage with his family. But into the mix, he is forced to contend with his parents’ sole focus being constantly on Ivy, not to mention his own significant responsibilities in helping to provide care for the wheelchair-bound, dependent girl. As frustrated as David is, his lifelong love for his sister shines through every page, as does his new, burgeoning love for Hannah. As protagonist, David is both likeable and trustworthy, which positions him deftly to play the role of philosophically examining the complex ethics surrounding Ivy’s death. Readers can follow the progression of David’s judgements from denial to condemnation, bewilderment to tentative understanding.
In super spare prose, Stinson weaves an impressively tight fabric to hold this exploration together. While there the occasional awkward transition or moment in the story, for the most part the story flows seamlessly which enables readers to grapple with controversial ideas alongside David.
What Happened to Ivy is a valuable contribution to the growing realm of extreme “problem novels” in today’s Canadian young adult literature. Indubitably, this book deserves a place in every library in the country. And for those classrooms brave enough to tackle the topic of mercy killing, there couldn’t be a better entry point than Kathy Stinson’s novel.
Michelle Superle is an English instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley where she teaches children’s literature and creative writing courses.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.