Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs

Abrams/Amulet. May 2021. 336p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781419741258.
Gr 4-6–Thirteen-year-old Ivy knows what she is good at: being kind to others. Like many middle schoolers, Ivy is grasping for an identity, and has decided that being kind is her “thing,” the way sports or academics are for other kids. Ivy is not so good at being kind to herself, however, and her relationships with her family and friends suffer. Ivy is always ready to help others, but won’t share or let herself be helped in turn. The lively narrative projects an authentic middle school voice and the Philadelphia setting is vivid, populated by nuanced characters and situations. Ivy’s caring mother regularly asks Ivy to share her feelings, but then hides the risks of her surrogate pregnancy. One of Ivy’s oldest friends, alienated by her determination not to share any vulnerabilities, decides that their friendship has run its course. Ivy is Jewish; her father has a male partner while her friend Lila has two mothers, and Ivy has Black and Latinx friends at school. The story shows the benefits of living in such a diverse community: Ivy’s Nana encourages her to “embrace all the parts of herself,” and Ivy embraces this in others too. When she first encounters Lila’s blended family and wonders about their history, she quickly understands that she “doesn’t need to understand the inner workings of Lila’s family.” Surrounded by all sorts of loving families and community members, it’s no wonder that Ivy has found a knack for being kind.
VERDICT Relatable realistic fiction for upper elementary and middle school readers navigating friendships, boundaries, and identity, with appeal for fans of similarly themed stories such as Varian Johnson’s Twins, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and Celia C. Pérez’s Strange Birds.

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