In addition to my obsession with Greek mythology and a good fantasy, I love love LOVE a good thriller/murder mystery/whodunnit. Alexa Donne’s forthcoming novel The Ivies filled the bill for a good murder mystery with plenty of plot twists, red herrings, and a rather large
frying pan cast iron skillet.
I am so happy that Turn the Page Tours selected me to join them for a review stop on the tour they’re hosting for this amazing thriller. Put on your school uniform and submit your college essays, we’re going to the ultra exclusive Clafin Academy!
Avery — The Queen Bee. Assigned school: Harvard University
What Avery wants, Avery gets. Avery is a triple legacy to Harvard via her maternal side of the family. There is a substantial donation made to the University yearly by her mother. Things are perfect, right? WRONG. On Early Decision Day, Avery gets a rejection email. From Harvard. Not a deferment. A rejection. Heads will roll.
Just like we will see later, Avery appears in the last few chapters of the book during the trial of the deceased. Her cold icey persona has changed COMPLETELY, and she’s softened up a bit, even drops a BOMBSHELL revelation on Olivia about her time at college. We love a nice round character and growth arc!
Sierra — The Hacker. Assigned school: Yale University.
The Ivies were always pulling “harmless” pranks under the direction of leader Avery. Sierra’s specialty was hacking into the school computer systems to get the girls in to the best class times, and with the best teacher each semester. She also hacked the security cameras once or twice but….that part isn’t important (surprise, it is very important).
A time or two, we do get to see a feisty side to Sierra that I personally am THE BIGGEST FAN of. Another character accuses Sierra of getting into Yale because of Affirmative Action (which is a whole other conversation we do not have time for today) and the college in question wanting to meet their quota of Black/non-white students admitted. Sierra promptly gathers that character to inform that yes, she is Black, however, she scored an astronomically high score on her SATs, and got in on her academics and rowing team abilities, not her skin color. Loved that moment.
We also get to see Sierra for a bit at the end of the novel when she testifies at the trial for the murder of [redacted]. She’s a stone cold ice queen, despite having been best friends with the other girls for their high school careers….my how the turns have tabled.
Margot — The Locked Vault. Assigned school: Princeton University.
Margot is the Ivy who you go to with your secrets; even when she’s drunk, she’s got her poker face on, and won’t crack under pressure. This works wonderfully for her as she is an aspiring actress and didn’t exactly get all her role through her auditions…
I was sad we didn’t see more of Margot, but I understand why. As an author, it’s hard to plot a murder, plan the plot twists, and juggle so many characters without a few of them becoming background noise.
Margot does appear in the closing chapter as well, and she’s even colder than Sierra. It’s moments like these that make it clear that the Ivies were never friends as much as they were people who associated with each other out of convenience. That is a very difficult realization to come to, but….in their case, that how it bees. Margot actually ends up going to the University of Michigan, a very prestigious school, but (obviously) not an Ivy League.
Emma — The Good Girl. Assigned school: Brown University
As described in the early pages of the book, Emma has a “finger in every pie” at Clafin. She’s charming enough to be believed by teachers about tip-offs regarding other students breaking curfew, musically inclined as first-chair flute, butterfly stroke champ on the swim team, and smart enough to (with the help of some plotting from her beloved Ivies) be captain of the school’s FIRST Robotics team. NOTE: the caps make it confusing. This is not the first team the school has had, the FIRST is a designation…like Junior Varsity or Varsity, or something similar. I know, it confused me too at first.
Emma actually gets into [redacted], kicking off the story and causing some drama among the girls. Perhaps she should have stayed in her lane…? Doing too much, my friend. Too much.
…and then there’s the narrator who’s perspective we are in: Olivia — The Journalist . Assigned school: University of Pennsylvania. Olivia isn’t like the rest of the Ivies, and its not just because of her interests…its her zip code. Olivia is at Clafin on a scholarship that covers nearly all of her education. She doesn’t have the newest clothes, or an unlimited bank account like the rest. So for Olivia, getting into college isn’t just about getting into a good school, the school in question has to come through with some amazing financial aid/scholarship award.
Our book kicks off with some background information about our characters and the high school. And then *dun dun dun* someone ends up very much dead. Olivia’s suspicions about the volatile nature that competing for a few spots at hard-to-get-into-schools can bring immediately flare, and she puts her journalistic skills to work.
Investigating your best friends for murder is very much a job for more than one person, so Olivia enlists the help of her co-editor of the school newspaper, Ethan “Canadian Ken Doll” Kendall. Together they piece together holes in the various alibis that have been given, and dig up some dirt from years before to finally corner the culprit at Avery’s annual New Years Eve party. The culprit (who’s identity will remain secret) tries to talk their way out of being suspected by throwing the blame any and every where possible, mostly toward Olivia, the poor, small town girl in the big city with all the rich kids.
There is a trial held, and we get to catch up with our girls: Sierra is the only one who ended up going to her “assigned” school; Olivia ended up having to apply to colleges a year late to work and save money. Margot is colder than cold and doesn’t hesitate to throw shade. The book closes with the murder being taken down, Avery and Olivia being (seemingly) decent friends, and the recording of a documentary special about the whole thing.
Overall, I’d give this book a very strong, very loud 5 stars! I loved all of the plot twists and turns, and the clues that are thrown in to confuse and dissuade Olivia had me reeling too. If you’re a fan of the movie Knives Out, the tv show Pretty Little Liars, or anything by Kara Thomas, or Karen M. McManus, then you’ll definitely love this twisty YA mystery!
Though this is Donne’s first foray into mystery, by no means is she a novice. This book has strong characters, a good amount of *sus* thrown around, and plenty of people to suspect.
Alexa Donne is the author of Brightly Burning and The Stars We Steal. The Ivies is her first foray into mystery novel writing as both of her previous releases have been retellings set in space! The Ivies was published by Crown, a division of Random House Children’s Publishing and has just released May 25th! In her free time, Alexa mentors with WriteGirl, runs the Author Mentor Match program, and manages one of the most popular writing advice channels on YouTube. She lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. You can find her online in most places @/alexadonne! You can purchase a copy of The Ivies using my Bookshop affiliate link, or by visiting your favorite bookseller!