The Ivies by Alexa Donne (BOOK REVIEW) 4/5
God, I hate catty little school brats. But God, they do make interesting characters.
Main character Olivia is not a particularly nice person- but she acknowledges it. She accepts that she is amongst the types of girls we all love to hate- the beautiful, the rich, the smart, the successful, all wrapped in the worst, most manipulative, conniving little packages. I can say that if I were to meet Olivia, Avery, Emma, Sierra, or Margot, I likely wouldn’t like them very much. Yet, there is something refreshing in characters that know they’re bad and simply don’t care. Olivia is, after all, sticking to what she knows will help her chances of survival- which is something admirable that most of us can relate to.
For me, the characters are what saved this novel for me. Warning: This is going to make it sound like I disliked this novel- keep reading to the end of this review.
Starting this novel off, I was reading with a critical eye. I watch Miss Donne’s youtube videos, you see- she’s an idol of mine, and I was eager to see if her writing was up to scratch. Her money where her mouth is, so to speak- and I say that with the utmost respect. The more I read, the more I could see her personality leaking into the pages. Every writer has a voice in their work, and Miss Donne’s came in loud and clear. Her makeup loving, school academia minded, peppy thriller writing self- I could feel her in this book, as clear as her online persona.
Yet, when I began this book, it didn’t immediately appeal to me. Maybe it was the handful of mistakes I found- typos and the like- that were minor but jarring. Or, perhaps, it was the fact that I, personally, haven’t had the Ivy league experience. This wasn’t my world- I am an Olivia… or perhaps, a Detective Cataldo. I also am far more familiar with third person novels than I am with first person, and maybe that threw me off a little bit as well. About halfway into this book, I had it down in my head as three out of five stars. Slightly boring, easy to set down and read in small bursts, and too predictable.
I’m glad to say that I stuck through it, and read this in one sitting, and with time, the novel became what it was meant to be: A decent thrill through the eyes of an eager Ivy-seeking student. While the plot was slow in certain parts, and easy to predict in others, I found myself drawn to its characters. I wanted to see the complex friendship of the Ivies unfold- most of all the friendship between Avery and Olivia- and the relationship of Olivia and the gorgeous Ethan. I enjoyed the realization of everyone’s true personalities and intentions, and soon found myself less invested in who the murderer was, and more invested in what was going to happen to the characters; where would they end up? What would happen to the Ivies- and to the people they screwed over?
Now here is where I get into spoiler territory. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED.
The actual result of this book grew on me. I found the social commentary on racism in college admissions to be refreshing. Particularly Tyler. Was it screwed up that he killed his girlfriend the way he did, for college essays- and I’m sure, partially out of anger that Emma did better than he could? Yes, absolutely. But is it great to see a rich, white male having a tantrum because he’s not king of the college admissions? Yes, absolutely. It made me laugh, when all came to light- because of how poetic that is, and in fact, how accurate it was. A young, male ego, his pride wounded, sanity breaking as he decides to screw over the girl who is arguably the best of the Ivies so that he can get ahead through her death. I will admit, that I guessed he was the killer very early on- the mention of his acting potential early on, along with his exaggerated reaction to her death and his continued efforts to memorialize her gave it away. But there were a few moments where I went back and forth, and I wasn’t expecting the reasoning to be so on point.
But as I said before, the murderer isn’t the interesting part of this book. It’s the Ivies themselves. Though I’m not a fan of the first person, I found myself enjoying Olivia’s role as the poor student among the rich, and her struggles with being the odd duckling of the group, left out of everything and discovering her friend’s secrets throughout the novel- which ultimately leads to her investigating them. I found the dynamic to be incredibly interesting, the distrust woven within a friend group and the ties that bound them together. I loved that they had different levels of closeness- such as Olivia defending Emma at many points, never being close to Margot, being able to trust and rely on Sierra, and in the end, being closest to Avery, the self proclaimed queen bee of the group. Even the side characters won me over. I adored the detective trying to relate to Olivia, and even trying to work with her in the end for mutual benefit, and I loved Ethan screwing everything up for his own gain. I will admit that his involvement was one of the parts I didn’t see coming- a genuine surprise that endeared me even more to his character.
Overall, I hit a point towards the end, where the realistic relationship dynamics shone through everything else, until it was all that mattered to me. I would even say that, despite the slow start, I would reread this novel a second time, something I don’t usually want to do for thrillers. My score rose, from a 3 to a 4. Almost, even, a 5. I’m pleased to see that Alexa Donne is all she says and more. This book might not be for everyone, but it’s a decent read, and I wish it wasn’t a standalone. Perhaps a sequel from another one of the core Ivies group, now in college, Miss Donne? Regardless, I’ll be checking out her other novels, as this was my first from her, and I recommend it to most who find characters to be key, or enjoy the petty bullsh*t that goes on in schools.