Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Ivy Book Poster Image
Dickens-style tale with addiction and thievery.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Young Ivy is enlisted by a gang of thieves to help "skin," or steal children's clothes. She works for them for a couple years. This gang, portrayed sympathetically, later breaks into a house to rob it. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

vy can be a frustratingly passive main character (she's always sleepy from the laudanum), but she shows hints of spunk as she overcomes her poor upbringing, addiction, and Oscar's mother's dangerous intentions, and finds her own happiness working with animals. A female character turns out to be a cross-dressing man.


Ivy's cousin threatens to "thrash" her as a young child. Ivy believes her caretaker killed a theft victim, and runs away from the bloody scene of the crime. An enemy attempts to murder Ivy on several occasions. Ivy plans to commit suicide to escape her poor lot in life. A woman poisons her neighbor's pet armadillo.


Ivy's aunt warns that Ivy's employer will "pounce on her" and advises her to "make sure the price is right before you lets 'im have 'is wicked way."


Ivy learns the value of different cloth materials as part of her thief training.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults give Ivy laudanum (an opiate) to quiet her as a child; she becomes addicted to it. She suffers physical and mental symptoms of addiction when denied the drug. An artist's wife dies from a laudanum overdose. An enemy tries to kill Ivy with too much laudanum; Ivy considers committing suicide by drinking an entire bottle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that it takes Ivy most of the book to stop being a victim (of poverty, of cruel relatives, of drug addiction) and assert herself. Set in Victorian England, the novel features seedy neighborhoods, theft, suggestions of prostitution, attempted murder, and drug use.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byngeorgianow September 24, 2016

Dull, just dull

This character is sleepy through the entire book because she is addicted to a drug to make her sleepy. This is yet another book that tells a boring tale of an e... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMelrosebloom May 10, 2012
Teen, 16 years old Written byavapink16 April 4, 2011

just not a good book for any age

i am a teen who read this book, this book in my opinion is off for all ages but i had to pick an age group so i went with 10+ but if you have a teen interested... Continue reading

What's the story?

A 5-year-old orphan with flaming red hair, Ivy is enticed to join Carroty Kate and her gang of thieves as they "skin" rich children of their clothes. To quiet the agitated girl, they give Ivy laudanum, an opiate that makes her sleepy. After a police officer catches Carroty Kate in what appears to be a violent robbery, Ivy returns to her impoverished life with her aunt and cousins, already a drug addict at age 7. The story then jumps to Ivy as teenager, still addicted and now a model for Oscar, a pre-Raphaelite artist. Ivy must overcome her poor upbringing, her addiction, and Oscar's mother's dangerous intentions if she wants to find her own happiness working with animals.

Is it any good?

Teen readers may find the Victorian narrative style off-putting until they get into the story, transported to the slums of 19th-century London. Historical fiction fans will relish swindle tricks such as spiffing up old canaries by painting them yellow and boiling wizened oranges to swell them before sale.

Ivy can be a frustratingly passive main character (she's always sleepy from the laudanum), but she shows hints of spunk. Illiterate and unschooled, she creates her own paint color names ("waste-of-time white") since colors such as "burnt sienna" mean nothing to her. Placed in precarious but intentionally ridiculous situations (posed as Eve in a tablecloth stained with food smells to attract a python wrapping itself around her), Ivy relies on common sense to maintain her dignity. In a feminist nod, Ivy rejects being called "spineless" and manages to carve out her own life without being saved by a man.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the inspiration for the story: a painting by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who serves as a minor character in the novel. What do you know about the pre-Raphaelite art movement? How can you find out more?

Book details

For kids who love history

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