Sunday, August 14, 2016

Anyone but Ivy Pocket

Anyone but Ivy Pocket
by Caleb Krisp
Recommended Ages: 12+

Ivy Pocket, age 12, is an orphan living by her wits who has somehow risen in the world to the position of lady's maid, but she's terrible at it. Anything but discreet, she is impulsive, pushy, disaster-prone, compulsively honest in a sense that approaches the boundary of rudeness and then cheerfully hops right over it, and at the same time capable of telling colossal whoppers - to herself and to others - when it comes to her private business. She constantly tells herself that she has the natural instincts of a young Sherlock Holmes, a secret agent, a Buddhist monk, etc. She believes, to the point of delusion, in her own excellent qualities. But she is actually a walking wave of catastrophe, whose escapades are as funny to the reader as they are mortifying to those around her.

So one day, Ivy finds herself jobless in Paris with one pound to her name. Then a dying, rich countess offers her 500 pounds to present a certain priceless jewel - the mysterious Clock Diamond - to the granddaughter of an estranged girlhood friend on her 12th birthday. Practically the moment Ivy leaves the room, the old lady is murdered. Intrigues and dangers begin to swirl around the girl even before she lands in England, and the pace of weirdness picks up after she arrives at the Butterfield estate and meets the spoiled Matilda and her nicer cousin Rebecca. Someone is trying to snatch the diamond before Ivy presents it at Matilda's birthday ball. The girls' tutor seems to have a sinister agenda. A friendly author who comes to the state at Ivy's request knows more than she should.

Then Ivy exhibits spooky new abilities, like healing wounds, being able to fall down a stairway without dying, and seeing dead people. One of them, the ghostly countess, keeps putting the frighteners on her, urging her to fulfill her promise. Meanwhile, the stone shows Ivy tantalizing glimpses of her forgotten childhood, before she found herself in the orphanage. As the poor girl becomes increasingly confused about the right thing to do, evil forces close in on her, ensuring the night of the birthday ball will be an action-loaded disaster in the true Ivy Pocket tradition.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was scary, funny, and full of crisply written passages that I marked to quote in this review; but on second thought, I'll let you discover them for yourself. One thing I found original about it was the clearly-drawn character of Ivy, a good picaresque heroine in that she can see through other characters' nonsense (mostly), while he reader can see through hers. A goodly part of the fun in this book is due to the streak of satirical irony that runs right through it. Also to the author's credit is the creative combination of straight-up period mystery, comedy, and paranormal thriller, blended in a way that smelled fresh to me. The only thing I would complain about was the design of the book, as published by Greenwillow. Apart from the charming illustrations by Barbara Cantini, the page design made this book one of the most irritating reading experiences I have had in some time. There was something off about the font, size, and linespacing of the text that made it look squished - and needlessly so, since so much space was wasted between lines of text. Between that and the often low-contrast ink color, reading my copy of Ivy Pocket was an eye-strain ordeal. I only bring up book design flaws in a review when they seriously affect my enjoyment of the book. Memo to Mr. Krisp, whoever he is: Insist on a new edition soon, with entirely new typesetting. Thanks!

Judging by his unclear dust-jacket photo and his goof-ball biographical blurb, Caleb Krisp may be a pseudonym for some other author yet to be outed, in the tradition of N.E. Bode, Pseudonymous Bosch, and Lemony Snicket, and many before them. So, while I can't assert this is his debut book, it is the first book he has published under this particular name. It already has a sequel, Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket, and it is rumored there will be at least a third book in this series.

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