The Ivies by Alexa Donne (320 pages)
A Super-Competitive Clique at a Cutthroat School
Set at the prestigious boarding school Claflin Academy, The Ivies follows a group of five girls – Avery, Emma, Olivia, Margot, and Sierra – who are all vying to get into the five best schools in the country. These girls, dubbed the Ivies by their classmates, are both feared and revered for their academic prowess and unwavering dedication to mastering the college admissions process. Each girl has decided to apply early decision to a different Ivy League school so they won’t be directly competing against each other, but as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan.
Avery Montfort, the self-appointed leader of the Ivies, has claimed Harvard for herself. But on early decision day, Avery finds out that Emma secretly applied to Harvard and got in. Which wouldn’t be an issue — except that Avery did not. Avery confronts Emma at a party and after their altercation, both girls leave the party enraged. Olivia watches all of this from the sidelines with a secret of her own: she also applied to Harvard without telling anyone and also got in. But after seeing how Avery reacted, she’s too afraid to say anything. And, to make matters shockingly worse, Emma is found dead the next morning. With every reason to suspect Avery, this mystery, like its characters, is not always what it seems to be.
A Look at the Darker Side of Academia
Our main character, Olivia, is a transfer student and serves as a conduit for the audience; we learn about Claflin right along with her. When Olivia is given the chance to join the Ivies, she doesn’t hesitate. We quickly learn that the Ivies rely on more than just their intelligence. They also use their social skills, social standing, and wealth to navigate to the top of the class in ways that are not always altruistic. They even keep The List which they use to track each student’s academic standing so they can keep tabs on their competitors and plan sabotage when necessary. Olivia finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew about herself even before the murder.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 Brookie Stars
This story has the hallmarks of so many stories that we love: One of Us is Lying, Mean Girls, Heathers, Pretty Little Liars, and even a bit of Legally Blonde. And, as a teacher myself, I can say that it gets the politics of college admissions right too. Many upper echelon schools will often only accept a certain number of students from certain schools, so the girls’ plot to apply separately is a smart one. The novel is fast-paced, especially after the murder. The story follows many of the conventions of a YA murder mystery, but in a successful rather than reductive way. Donne keeps even careful readers guessing pretty far into the novel.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table