IVY, issues 1-3 by Sarah Oleksyk

Upon hearing the news that IVY #4 was finished, I decided that it was imperative to finally review the first three issues of Sarah Oleksyk’s excellent series. Chapter one introduces us to Maine high school seniors Ivy and her friends Marisa and Brad. Ivy is filled with teen rage and has artistic talent to burn. Like most kids her age she can’t modulate her feelings—when a teacher gets on her nerves, she calls her a Nazi, when her friends are casually talking trash about a classmate, Ivy pipes in with “I hate her! It looks like her face caught fire and somebody put it out with a pickaxe!”

Ivy’s attitude increases her isolation and feelings of persecution as the stress of senior years wears on. Despite her talent and encouragement from her school, Ivy’s mom wants her to skip art school for a practical degree like business, causing resentment and breeding secrets. Her friends begin leaving her out of their once-shared world as Ivy becomes more focused on why everything sucks. The guy she likes at school has a nasty girlfriend. So when a chance encounter with a boy at a Boston art fair provides a release from both horniness and her daily life, she throws herself into it. The plot doesn’t hinge on any one of these details, but slowly draws the reader into Ivy’s world—even a reader who wouldn’t go back to high school for anything.

A large part of why all of this works is Oleksyk’s amazing art. Her beautiful, fluid black lines capture movement and static details (like Ivy’s sketchbook drawings or footprints in the snow) equally well. Unlike her main character, the author doesn’t need more figure work—her anatomy is perfect and effortless-looking, giving each character a unique and memorable physiognomy.

Though set in the present day, IVY feels a lot like a loving tribute to 90s teenagerhood, what with all the letter writing and lack of ipods, but IVY is no curdled nostalgia trip. Oleksyk has mastered depicting the throb of adolescence without resorting to exploitating the sexy bits or pandering to shared memories of songs or TV shows. She manages to mix empathy with her young character with an adult, critical sensibility to create an incredibly vivid and real portrayal of Ivy and her world. Frankly, it’s a relief to read something about a teenage girl, especially having been a pretty wild and angsty teenage girl myself, that doesn’t bore or offend me.

Chapter three ends with a fight, a flight and a miserable bus ride. In other words, a cliffhanger that’s had me panting for the next installment since I closed the cover. Now that number four is out, it is at the top of my must-buy list.

For more with Sarah, listen to Robin’s interview and then head over to tryharder and read mine.

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