Two Kentucky girls, Ivy June Mosley of Tunder Creek and Catherine Combs of Lexington, are participating in their schools' first-ever seventh-grade student exchange program. Taking turns, each girl leaves home for two weeks to live and attend classes with the other, and each records her honest feelings about the experience in a journal. For both of them, it's a chance to see how others live and to find out if what they've been told about each other's lifestyles and beliefs is true.
In some ways, the girls are worlds apart. For starters, Ivy June lives up in the mountains with her grandparents, Mammaw and Papaw Mosley, because it's so crowded down at her parents' place. The Mosleys use an outhouse, drive rickety old cars, and wear hand-me-downs. Catherine lives with her close-knit family in a large, beautiful house with plenty of space for everyone. She has her own room with two beds and is driven to school every day.
As the girls spend time in each other's neck of the woods, they find out that they've both been keeping secrets. And when, without warning, Ivy June and Catherine both face the terror and helplessness of not knowing what's happening to their loved ones, they discover that they may be more alike than different.
Newbery Award winner Phyllis Reynolds Naylor invites readers into the lives of two Kentucky girls who learn together that to become true friends, they need only one thing in common: a belief in the power of faith and hope.
I know very little about living in the Appalachian mountains, so stepping into Ivy June's world was very enlightening. I have to admit, I thought the book was set several decades ago until the plot went to Lexington and there were cell phones. Turns out it's a modern-day book, and my wrong assumption says a lot about the living conditions of many families who live in the hollows of Kentucky.
This is the story of the clashing of cultures, and I really admired the subtle way Naylor dealt with stereotypes. It felt very honest that both Ivy June and Catherine saw things they liked and disliked in the new environments they found themselves in. At the same time, Naylor showed that a lot of times, things we consider bad about a certain culture (Ivy June's emotionally distant parents, for example) are not because they are worse people. It's often because of the harsh living situations they find themselves in, or because they were raised that way, or because it's the only way they can manage to get through the day. And it's not just Ivy June's family that has problems; as she so perceptively says, money creates its own problems.
My one qualm is that I would have liked to see how living in someone else's shoes changed the girls. When Catherine went home, did she feel the need to shower less often? Did she think twice before spending money on new clothes? When Ivy June grew up, did she pursue a higher education? Did she treat her children with attention and compliments?
We saw the two girls see a new side of life, and I assume they grew from it. But I want to know for sure!
Four out of five racoons in the outhouse.
Release Date: June 2009
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM