Enchanted Ivy, like Sarah Beth Durst's previous books Into the Wild and Ice, comes with an irresistible, fairy-tale-driven premise. What if the gargoyles lurking all over Princeton's campus were actually alive? Moreover, what if the university itself was a gateway to a magical world? When prospective student Lily Carter visits Princeton with her legacy grandfather and her emotionally fragile mother, she finds this and more.
Durst's love of and deep familiarity with Princeton (she went to school there) come through clearly in this novel, as does her affection for mythical creatures in general. For example:
"Following her grandfather's lead, Lily stepped out of the car. She inhaled the smell of Princeton: the earthy scent of pine and the sweet perfume of tulip trees, undercut with the sour stench of stale beer. It seemed exactly like it should. She smiled." (Page 5)
"Lily stared longest at the unicorn. She felt as if she were looking at a shaft of moonlight. He was iridescent white, as smooth and flawless as a Michelangelo sculpture. His golden horn shone like an angel's halo." (Page 107)
The whole novel reads a bit like the wish fulfillment of a dreamy undergrad who envisioned dragons flying over the quad and gargoyles climbing down from the walls. But it works. I think that this quality will make it a good read for fantasy-loving middle and high schoolers, who will be able to relate to it. The authentic glimpse into the Ivy League college world is an added bonus.
Durst doesn't have the gift that Maggie Stiefvater and Kristin Cashore have in capturing teenage romantic longing. I found myself not all that concerned about which of two boys Lily would choose. Durst's gift, instead, is for writing fairy tales that seamlessly merge modern and classic elements. Even when writing about relatively grim things, she maintains a light, accessible tone. For example:
"So what if her dream school had a few quirks she hadn't expected? She could avoid walking through the main gate (which wouldn't be hard since it was a common student superstition to circumvent that gate), avoid eye contact with gargoyles (again, not hard since most people didn't try to chat up stone sculptures), and avoid being attacked by rampaging monkey-things (always sound advice)." (Page 127)
In short, I found Enchanted Ivy an engaging read, with a plot that held my interest, and a setting that struck just the right balance between realistic and fantastic. I'll probably never look at gargoyles or ivy-covered stone walls in quite the same way. Recommended!
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).