Terrific, Offbeat Middle-Grade Mystery with a Unique and Winning Heroine
Anyone But Ivy Pocket
by Caleb Krisp
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Ivy Pocket is a walking disaster, at every turn enraging and appalling the fancy aristocrats she works for. But our protagonist doesn’t see herself that way at all. In fact, she’s convinced she’s rather wonderful, perfectly charming, and extremely talented. When Ivy finds herself abandoned and penniless in Paris, she has no idea how she will get back to England. Fate intervenes when Ivy is called to the sickbed of a dying duchess and is charged with delivering a spectacular (and possibly cursed) diamond necklace to Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. From that moment on, Ivy Pocket is propelled towards her remarkable destiny in a surprising adventure full of villains, mayhem, and misunderstandings.
Thanks to Miss Ivy Pocket, books about 12-year-old maids are sure to be the next craze in children’s literature. Even as I write this, I can see weary, underpaid book clerks unloading crate after crate of tales about preteen servants – everything from alternate history dystopian steampunks with a pathetic drivel as lead, to exciting, spellbinding triumphs that bring Victorian England to life, and that feature intelligent, lovable heroines. Anyone But Ivy Pocket is neither of these.
Ivy Pocket is, to borrow a favorite phrase of hers, barking mad. She’s a monstrous know-it-all whose compliments are always back-handed, and whose brutal insults are delivered with a polite sincerity. She speaks her mind, ignores good advice, exaggerates and fabricates with regularity, thinks she always knows best, and gets most everything wrong. Ivy is also flamboyant, irreverent, and staggeringly annoying. (Caleb Krisp’s prose does an excellent job of getting that latter quality across: one reviewer said she wanted to quit reading after 25 pages.) But being twelve, an orphan, and a lady’s maid excuses the greater part of her attitude. Unfortunately for her and those whose lives she invades, Ivy’s self-delusion and strong-willed personality – a fatal combination – turn even the most trivial event into a disaster. In short, the girl’s absolutely bonkers, marvelously and hilariously.
It is unnecessary to delve at depth into the plot as it is a conventional, run-of-the-mill mystery involving a murder, a mysterious precious jewel (with, as usual, a dreadfully ominous name – the Clock Diamond), a girl on the run, a stern governess, an heiress’s birthday party, a sword fight with a fireplace poker, hundreds of clocks of all shapes and sizes, a wicked, blubbery ghost, and a horde of black-hooded, supernatural minions, somewhat on the diminutive side, from another world. (Think Agatha Christie meets Stephen King – and slaps him silly.) The book runs the gamut from wacky comedy to frightening tragedy to nightmarish horror. (Although, to be honest, the nightmarish horror actually occurs after the final page of the story when the author informs us there is – a sequel!)
Barbara Cantini (Yes, that Barbara Cantini!) has splattered her art throughout the book, beginning with the cover. You can’t turn a page without running smack up against a beautiful, gothic-styled etching, engraving, or wood-cut. For instance, there are exactly thirty (30! XXX!!) individual little pictures on three pages alone – and that’s before you even get to the title page. Cantini has all the instincts of a manuscript-illuminating medieval monk with too much time on his hands. So expertly do the illustrations convey the story, one could dispense with the Krisp-y narration and follow the plot through them, as a three-year-old might. In fact, so wonderful are they, one is compelled to inquire, What would the book be like without these pictures? A lot thinner.
If there’s a dull moment in Anyone But Ivy Pocket, aside from the plain white end-papers (evidently the prolific Mrs/Ms/Miss Cantini refused to decorate those – a contractual dispute, I imagine), I couldn’t find it. I did, however, stumble upon a likable character or two, some laugh-out-loud episodes, and the occasional heartwarming moment; oversights, no doubt, on the part of the author who, unlike successful writers, finds a suitable rut for his character and keeps her in it, come what may.
Having taken note of the book’s Goodreads rating (a measly 3.72 as of this review), I thought it prudent to borrow it from the library rather than spending money on it. (Shockingly, there were no holds and I was able to get a copy immediately.) After reading it in two sittings (to lessen the pain, one must rip off the band-aid, dear), I have decided that I shall instantly (next weekend at the latest) march down to my local bookseller and insist that Lord Barnes and Lady Noble turn over a copy to me if they desire my continued patronage.
To conclude, if you like well-written, extremely entertaining books about young, independently-minded orphan girls with a sharp tongue and a knack for getting into trouble, pick up Anne of Green Gables.
— Jennifer Michelle
5 of 5 Hearts. Terrific, Offbeat Middle-Grade Mystery with a Unique and Winning Heroine.
Whew. My apologies to Caleb Krisp, Barbara Cantini, and anyone who came to this page expecting an ordinary review. However, it is an indication of just how absorbing and enjoyable a book is when the reader becomes infected, as I clearly did, by its tone and protagonist. Ivy Pocket and her over-the-top narration are not going to be to everyone’s liking. But those who seek a middle-grade heroine of a different sort will appreciate Ivy’s unflagging confidence and steadfast determination, and, like me, will devour Anyone But Ivy Pocket and look forward eagerly to Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket, coming in 2016.