Ivy Lin is a Chinese immigrant living in Massachusetts, and all she wants is to fit in with her wealthier classmates—especially Gideon, the most popular boy in school. Later, a twist of fate brings grown-up Ivy back into Gideon’s world, and the tension between her humble past and her growing desire for a high-society life takes hold in escalating and unexpected ways. Author Susie Yang shares how her own experiences informed the novel and why she couldn’t resist a good old-fashioned love triangle.
How did this story come to you?
“It was really about what kind of book I wanted to read. I love anti-hero characters, and at the time I was reading stuff like Mr. Ripley and Vanity Fair and watching things like Breaking Bad, so I knew I wanted to create an unusual protagonist. Once I had that vision, Ivy came to me and the arc of her story became clear. I’m Chinese-American, so it felt really natural to give Ivy that background and that feeling of being an outsider and looking into a world that she wanted to participate in and that she idolized – it’s a core part of her identity. Her background and her aspirations really work together, and that set the plot of the book in motion.”
I really loved the relationship between Ivy and her grandmother. What was the process of writing that like?
“With Ivy’s mom and grandmother, and even her aunts, there’s a sense of them really trying to impress their wisdom [on her]. When I came up with Ivy’s backstory, I knew I wanted to give her a mentor who would instill these values and be opportunistic and try to take advantage of the system, and [her grandmother’s] voice came to me really strongly.”
You show the different sides of Ivy through this interesting love triangle. Was this tension part of the story from the get-go?
“Oh, yes, I love love triangles! Even from the very beginning, the plot of the book changed very little – I always knew the events that would happen. I think each draft is really just making sure the story unfolds in an interesting way. Roux and Gideon were always going to be the foils to each other and present different aspects of Ivy’s desires.”
Ivy’s family goes through their own changes with class and social stature. How does that compare with her ambition?
“I wanted to show how as we get older, we start to see our parents as adults and [realize that] their narrative is not the way we interpret it. When Ivy was a child, her family was poor, and as she gets older she retains that prejudice; [it’s one] I think we all share about our childhood and our families, that narrative that we internalize. Ivy’s family identity is her blind spot.”
What are the themes that you hope come across?
“I think the main theme is privilege. Ivy’s whole desire is to be a privileged person, and she views this as very binary—you either are or you aren’t. I think that core function defines so many of her decisions. I also wanted to make the reader participate in Ivy’s decisions and I wanted to make her decisions understandable. Because I tried to show how Ivy justifies those decisions, people will understand her internal logic even if it’s not our—as readers—internal logic.”
In the mood for a love triangle? White Ivy is the Indigo Staff Pick of the Month for November. Available at Chapters, Indigo, Coles, or online at Indigo.ca.
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