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The story's protagonist, Ivy, isn’t the typical heroine. She’s a master of deceit, determined to fit into the white Protestant community she’s growing up in outside of Boston.
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As a Chinese immigrant, she strives for the glamorous life she associates with being American, through any means necessary. This includes frequent stealing, which her grandmother taught her how to do as a young girl.
Ivy's life, as she knows it, is flipped on its head when her mother discovers her bad habits and sends her back to China.
Years later and back in Boston, Ivy’s obsession with assimilation culminates in her childhood crush, Gideon, who to her epitomized everything sparkly about America. On the outside, he and his family had it all but when she reunites with him as an adult, the reader finds cracks in this perfect façade.
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After reading "White Ivy," use the questions below to further explore the book's themes and characters.
- After finishing the novel, reexamine the title. What do you think it refers to? In what ways can the title be interpreted?
- The novel is both a thriller with plot twists and social commentary on the “model minority” myth. How does Susie Yang meld these usually disparate genres?
- Since middle school, Ivy values appearances and decorum. She believes that “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear” (p. 39). She wants others to think that she is morally upright, and she is ashamed when Roux catches her stealing. Why do you think Ivy values the appearance of propriety? How much of it is from her family and how much of it is from her environment?
- Meifeng shares with Ivy the story about how her parents got together. Years later, Ivy learns new details of that story from her own mother. How does Ivy’s evolving understanding of her parents’ history inform how she pursues her goals?
- Ivy meets Dave, Gideon’s mentor, and his wife, Liana, an Asian woman, at a party. How does their interracial relationship differ from that of Ivy and Gideon?
- Ivy thinks at one point, “Perhaps this was the secret to a lasting marriage: to always uphold a veil of mystery between each other” (p. 147). Does this veil exist in her relationship with Gideon? Does it exist in her relationship with Roux? Why or why not?
- Ivy’s and Gideon’s families meet for the first time on Thanksgiving. How do their families’ cultures clash? How do their cultural differences manifest in the discussion about the wedding?
- Throughout Ivy’s childhood, her parents are strict and frugal. Later on, her parents attain middle-class legitimacy and are more supportive of her. How does Ivy’s relationship to her parents develop over the course of the book?
- Ivy is ambitious and covets privilege. She longs for money, access, and legitimacy. What different desires do Gideon and Roux satisfy in Ivy? In what ways do their respective relationships remain unsatisfactory for her?
- In a violent altercation, Ivy and Roux hit each other. Afterward, Roux says “I love you” for the first time. How do Roux’s childhood and past relationships influence his behavior toward Ivy?
- Ivy dyes her hair blond before making a crucial decision in the book. What does her blond hair signify?
- What do White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) exemplify for Ivy? What attraction do they hold and how does Gideon exemplify this ideal?
- Why does Ivy struggle to embrace her Chinese culture?
- On her wedding day, Ivy learns not only a truth about Gideon, but also about Sylvia’s role in their relationship. How does Sylvia protect her brother?
- In your opinion, does Ivy succeed in the end? Is she happy?
- With its dark twists and turns and addictive plot, White Ivy seems like the perfect book to adapt into a movie or TV show. Who would you cast as the stars?
- Ivy straddles both Chinese and WASP culture. As a group, discuss how you may have had to navigate and embrace different cultures.
- Ivy is a strong-willed heroine who is shameless about her desires. She ruthlessly pursues her ambitions. Name other heroines in literature who remind you of Ivy.
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For more book recommendations, check out:
- 5 books to read if you loved "Leave the World Behind" by Rumaan Alam
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- 15 diverse children's and young adult books recommended by kids