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Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a prolific writer for children, so she will be familiar to many young readers. Faith, Hope, and Ivy June is about an exchange scheme which involves two Kentucky seventh-graders who visit each other's homes for two weeks each. Catherine is from a well-to-do family who live in Lexington, the state's second largest city, and she goes to a private school. She has a computer in her room and she has her own cell phone. There's a boy she talks to on the phone most days. She's a typical girl. The other girl is Ivy June, who lives in poverty in a small rural mining town, the fictional Thunder Creek. Ivy June's parents don't have enough room in their small house for all their children, so she lives with her grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, and her great grandmother who is 100 years old and is a little senile. Ivy June not only has no cell phone (there's no service where she lives) but she does not even have a landline phone, because the phone company has not put out a line there. Her life is very different from Catherine's. So there's a huge cultural difference between the two girls, potentially making the exchange awkward. But they find they also have a great deal in common.
Ivy June visits Lexington first, and she goes to school with Catherine for the first week, and then does more sightseeing the second week. Nearly everyone is very nice to her, but Catherine's grandmother is snooty and nasty, and some of Catherine's friends are well-meaning but condescending. Ivy June goes to a musical at the opera house, seeing Oklahoma, which she loves. She also gets to ride a horse for the first time, which thrills her. When Catherine visits Thunder Creek, everyone is very friendly, and she is very impressed by the beauty of the mountains. While Ivy June dressed up for her trip, Catherine carefully dresses down to fit in for her visit. This is modern rural Kentucky, where people no longer shop at the local store, but instead go to Wal-Mart for everything. Catherine gets a real education from her experience, especially because there's a mine accident while she is there, which mobilizes the whole area to work together. This makes the plot a little contrived, but it makes for good drama.
Whether Naylor manages to paint an accurate picture of modern Kentucky is debatable, but she certainly makes an effort. The reader of the unabridged audiobook is Karen White, and she gives makes her performance quite compelling, although her Kentucky accents do not seem very authentic. This is a multidimensional book addressing friendship, family, social differences, class differences, the ethics of the corporate world and what makes life worth living. So it is the kind of book that works well as an assigned book in school. Most of it is told by an impersonal narrator, but it also includes diary entries written by both girls as required by their exchange program giving their perspectives on their experiences. This helps readers understand the girls better, allowing them to see their points of view. Ivy June is an appealing character, very concerned about others but also ready to speak up for herself when she does not like what others are saying. The final part of the book, full of anxiety about the mining accident, is surprisingly moving.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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