Faith, Hope, and Ivy June
(2009) is a young adult novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. A modern iteration of the country mouse/city mouse trope, Naylor's Faith, Hope, and Ivy June
is the story of two Kentucky girls from very different backgrounds who, through a student exchange program between their schools—the first of its kind—switch places for two weeks, learning life lessons along the way. Best known for her children’s and young adult books, Naylor won a Newberry Medal in 1992 for her novel-quartet Shilo
. Her Alice
book series has come under fire for its willingness to cover female sexuality. Many books in the series have made the American Library Association's list of most challenged books for several years running; one even topped the list in 2003. Naylor has won many top awards for children's literature over the years, including the Mark Twain Reader's Award, the William Allen White Children's Book Award, and the Sequoyah Children's Book Award; as well as several other literary awards like the Edgar Allen Poe Award.
Twelve-year-old Ivy June is from one of the poorest places in Kentucky, the small town of Thunder Creek. Mountainous and rural, with comforts like running water and electricity in short supply, Thunder Creek is dominated by the local coal mine, where Ivy June's grandfather, albeit begrudgingly, works. Ivy June has a large family, and because her parents haven't much space in their own home, she stays with her grandparents, Mammaw and Papaw.
Catherine's life, on the other hand, couldn't be more different. She lives in a large, beautifully appointed home in Lexington, with all the comforts of modern life, and a large, educated family that wants the best for her. There is plenty of space in her home for all of her family members—and all of their state-of-the-art material things.
Both Ivy June and Catherine sign up for a student exchange program that will see them trade places with another Kentuckian for two weeks. During this time, each will attend the other's school and stay with her family. Ivy June and Catherine are selected because their lives and living conditions are so contrasting. Before the exchange occurs, both are asked to write down in their journals what they expect to find in their new temporary home. Once they have spent time in each others' shoes, they learn that what they like best about each others' lives are certain nonmaterial elements: Catherine, for instance, notices the very real affection Ivy June's grandparents have for her, which causes her to write in her journal, “I wish I had grandparents I loved that much.” Ivy June, understandably, is taken aback by Catherine's wealth. Besides running water and electric lights, Catherine's world is one of fancy clothing, rich foods, car trips to and from school, and visits to the Opera House. And yet, Ivy June writes in her journal, “Those were the small things. She would love a daddy like Catherine’s who asked about her day, inspected her homework…A family who encouraged her to broaden herself and told her how well she was doing when she tried something new.”
The book reaches its climax when Ivy June's hardworking grandfather is trapped in the mine that has both supported his family and taunted him for so long; he has been looking forward to his last day there for years. To Catherine's surprise, the whole Thunder Creek community gathers round to support Ivy June's family after the incident, teaching her an important lesson about community—a lesson she might never have experienced in her relatively isolated world back in Lexington.
One of the notable things about Faith, Hope, and Ivy June
is its treatment of familial affection—so important to children, especially, who are sensitive to the ways they are treated by different adults. Indeed, these relationships loom large in the lives of children in a way that literature aimed at children and young adults does not always capture. Both Catherine and Ivy June learn to appreciate the sometimes-strained ways their family members show love for them, once they are separated from them. Ivy June writes, “I figure we all love each other down underneath where you can’t hardly see it.” Similarly, Catherine comes to appreciate her demanding grandmother, Rosemary, once she is given the space to miss her. Naylor is also keen to ascribe a greater emotional complexity to the girls than is often the case with characters so young. Ivy June is shown as understanding that she can't help but idealize her parents because they're her parents, even though they rarely live up to her romanticization of them. Her struggle to come to terms with their idiosyncrasies is one of the highlights of the book.