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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What Happened to Ivy, written by Kathy Stinson. Second Story Press, 2012. $11.95 ages 12 and up

"Or was Ivy's life tougher than I ever let myself believe? How do you weigh crappy stuff like seizures and physio and people hardly ever understanding you, up against giggles and grins and just being happy with birds and pretty flowers and your sunhat and your turquoise bathing suit? How can anyone know whether someone else's life is worth living or not..."

I didn't read the summary on the back cover of Kathy Stinson's new book. I know her to be an adept and accomplished writer and I was keen to read another of her books. It is not a long story, but the memory of it will remain with you for a long time. It is another of those books that had me engaged from the start and kept me reading until the last page was read.

David's life is not easy. Then, consider the life that his sister Ivy faces every day from her wheelchair: her 'twisted arms and legs, her slightly too-big head, her eyes that sometimes cross, her saggy mouth..." Not to mention the surgeries, the seizures, the frustrating attempts to make herself understood. David has few friends and he is keen on making an impression on Hannah, a new neighbor and love interest. It seems his needs always come second to his sister's and he wonders if his parents ever really even notice him anymore. Ivy takes a lot of care, and it falls to all family members to make sure she is safe, happy, healthy and supervised.

Hannah is happy to help with Ivy. When the family goes to the lake for a summer getaway, Hannah goes along. Lazy days are spent swimming, playing cards, working on puzzles and waiting out persistent rain. While at the cottage, Ivy has a fatal seizure and drowns while in the water with her father. There is speculation that he might be responsible for her death.

This poignant and heartfelt story provides a window into the daily complexities for a family raising a child with the cognitive and physical disabilities cerebral palsy. Following surgery when she was eight, Ivy began having debilitating seizures and now, much time is spent in giving the care and comfort needed, while the needs of the family must often be ignored or downplayed. David certainly feels that he is missing out some days. Then, there is the guilt over those feelings.

While coming to terms with Ivy's loss, David begins to feel guilt over some of his actions toward his sister. As suspicion and rumors surface about the actual events of her death, David finds himself wondering if it was accidental. When his father confesses that he didn't really try to save Ivy in the middle of her seizure, the family is devastated. How can one person know what is best for another?

There are no easy answers to their questions. David knows how much his father loved Ivy, and how sad he is at her loss. Was what he did right? When a witness comes forward to tell what they saw that day at the lake, David's father is taken into custody and readers are left without a clear knowledge of 'what happened to Ivy'.Mercy killing is an issue where there will never be a consensus. Books as powerful as this one open the door to discussion, and allow those who have read it an avenue for considering their own feelings in light of the events presented.  

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