Monday, February 7, 2011

Written and art by Sarah Oleksyk
Published by Oni Press
Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

"I just imagined all the best parts of you...wish I could do that for myself."

Nobody ever said adolescence was easy.

Highschool student Ivy Stenova lives in a small town in Maine and dreams big of becoming a famous artist. She excels at painting and would be considered "alternative". There's no real time setting to this, but I would assume sometime in the early to mid-90's. There are no cell phones, and people still used cassettes. Though the time period is insignificant to the story, as this is really a timeless story. Rebellion, troubled relationships with one's parents, the longing to just run away and never return...all of those things I'm sure most people deal with sooner or later.

Ivy isn't popular, but has a couple of friends: Brad and Marisa. whose friendship goes through an evolution throughout the story and tested. On a visit to Boston to check out local art colleges, Ivy meets a young man named Josh, who appears to be a kindred spirit. Like most teens, she falls head-over-heels in love with him and they become pen pals (another indicator this is a time before email). It is also here that the strands of friendship begin to wear with Marisa. It's also where Ivy get a taste in reality as art school after art school rejects her portfolio and offers advice. She's finally given an application into an art school and could not be happier about that. One problem: her mother isn't too keen on her going to an art school. That's putting it lightly.

Ivy's mother does not approve of her daughter enrolling into an art school and supposedly wasting her life. Of course, Ivy responds with shutting her mother out of her life even more and vents her frustration into her art. While her infatuation and relationship with Josh becomes more intimate, other aspects of her life begin to crumble, namely her friendships with Marisa and Brad (whose father is an abusive drunk).

The interesting part for me was seeing Ivy lose herself after meeting Josh. He is, what could be defined as, the catalyst for her transformation. She starts using drugs and her friends start to leave her behind. When she is accepted into her school, which her mother finds out about. Both frustrated, a fist fight ensues with Ivy running away to Josh. Of course this is where her life takes a turn for the adventurous, and somewhat dangerous. With hardly any money the two runaway together and hitchhike to Georgia, but being turned away by Josh's brother, since Josh isn't exactly a saint and had stolen some money to get as far as they did. Desperate, the two hide out in an abandoned house.

Around Chapter 5 is when Ivy realizes her mistake. She can runaway from her friends and family, but she can only blame so much of her anger and outlook on life on them. The rest lies within her. We see what Josh is really made of, or should I say what is lacking as companion and partner for Ivy. He cheats on her, doesn't care about her, he seems just to have this cavalier attitude about everything. All the while reading this, you want the best for Ivy, for her to find peace. Josh is certainly not the answer to that.

Ivy finally does find her way back home and mother and daughter are reunited. It's endearing as you can see the emotion through the characters, even with Oleksyk's simplistic style. The thing that I loved about Ivy was the fact I saw a lot of myself in her. That might sound a bit odd, but I had similar experiences that almost mirrored Ivy's story. The art and panel construction are sincerely incredible. From the way Ivy's imagination takes flight, to the last few pages with Ivy saying goodbye to a part of her life, it's all handled in a form of grace and sincerity that doesn't come along often.

While the central character is shy of 18, there are a few moments that are more mature. I'd easily recommend this from anybody who enjoyed such young adult stories as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or even Juno. Ivy Stenova and her world might be a work of fiction, but in actuality, come across as very real and possibly real for those who have "been there".

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