Sarah Oleksyk's Ivy first appeared as a series of mini-comics that, according to critic Douglas Wolk, who wrote the introduction to this volume, raised "an excited murmur from people who follow rising stars of art comics" every time a new issue was released.
Now the people of Oleksyk's native Portland aren't the only ones to "ooh" and "ahh" at Ivy. Oni Press has brought together the five mini-comic issues into one hardcover book that finally presents this wonderful graphic novel to a larger audience.
Ivy is a coming-of-age story, following a small-town teenager living in Maine as she tries to escape and earn her freedom, even if she's not quite sure yet what that means. It's a genre that's been tapped many times before, but Oleksyk's work stands on its own. Ivy herself is, of course, angry, and you might even call her a bit of a bully. She's tough on her mom, her friends, and the people who want to be her friends, as well as on herself. A fight with her teacher results in her suspension. A fight with her mother comes to blows. She's on the verge of ruining her life before she really discovers what life is all about.
But even with her explosive anger, which often gets her into trouble, Ivy has some quiet, meditative moments (told wordlessly) that show us the spirit and soul of the artist.
Ivy's journey as she tries to figure herself and her life out is often funny, often devastating. There's pain, awkwardness, mistakes, regrets, joy—in other words, it's about being a teenager.
(By the way, the book may be about teenagers, but it may not be for them. There's some casual drug use, as well as some nudity and sex. In other words: teenagers. But their depiction in graphic format might make this a bit harder for school libraries or parents to accept.)
Oleksyk has a great ear for dialogue, and her artwork is fluid, lively, and beautiful. She's equally skilled at showing us the angry moments, which come off as raw and painful, as well as the quiet, introspective moments that often serve to let that anger both dissipate and sink in.
The only book's main weakness is in its other characters. Many of the supporting characters never come to life, or are little more than clichés. They exist to fill roles, but don't really exist, and that sometimes makes Ivy's reactions seem fake, especially in the early chapters, but as her relationships deepen later in the book, so does the book itself.
Coming-of-age stories are a dime-a-dozen, and this one doesn't bring much new to the genre, other than, well, skill and good storytelling. Worth a look.
Reviewed by John R. Platt on July 9, 2012