Book Review: What Happened to Ivy by Kathy Stinson

Title: What Happened to Ivy

Author: Kathy Stinson

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 146

Rating: C+

Recommended?: No


Like Terry Trueman’s Stuck in Neutral (a book that had a strong emotional effect on me when I was a young teen,) What Happened to Ivy is about a father deciding to kill his severely disabled child. While the protagonist of Stuck in Neutral is the disabled youth (locked in but keenly aware of his surroundings,) the main character in What Happened to Ivy is the able-bodied sibling.

David is fifteen and his life revolves around his eleven-year-old sister Ivy, who has cerebral palsy and is severely cognitively delayed. Ivy has seizures and keeps having surgeries that don’t seem to be doing any good, while David wants to get a little closer to his neighbor Hannah without Ivy’s neediness interfering.

When Ivy suddenly drowns at the family’s lake house, David has to reconcile with the fact that her death might not have been an accident. I knew this book would be hard for me to read, and I was afraid that the author would advocate for the killing of disabled people. This turned out not to be the case, but the author did look at both sides of the issue.

I did appreciate that there was a lot of focus put on the joy Ivy had in her short life, not just what she couldn’t do and how her disabilities negatively affected others. It was honestly a heart-breaking story because I could understand how someone might question someone like Ivy’s quality of life, but how can someone else decide whether a person’s life is worth living?

It felt like the author waffled a little too much on the whole ‘mercy killing’ argument and refused to take a stand either way. The book itself was so short and simple (with a ton of unanswered questions) that I almost felt like I was given just half a story. The characters were one-dimensional and almost every facet of the able-bodied characters’ lives revolved around Ivy, which might have been the point but was also frustrating.

It was very much an ‘issue’ book and while I was impressed that the author took on the subject matter and did a pretty decent job of showing how horrible a situation like this is, it’s not something that had strong plotting or character development in its own right.

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