The Ivies, by Alexa Donne

Thrillers are a few-and-far-between genre for me, usually because they do not always have a good payoff or the cliches weigh things down. Of course, anyone could say those things about any genre, but in terms of thrillers, there are so few interesting twists to pull from the genre arsenal that my expectations are often lowered. I knew these things going into The Ivies, and, well, let’s just say there were tropes, but there were also cliches.

Olivia Winters is a member of Claflin Academy’s Ivies, a notorious group of catty, rich girls whose sole goal is to get into an Ivy League school. But only one girl can go to each school since the competition to get into these schools is already so fierce. So when Olivia learns that she got into Harvard, the school that the Ivies leader, Avery, wanted, it sets off a chain of events that culminates in the murder of one of the Ivies. Olivia begins her own investigation to learn the murderer’s identity but will uncover some truths that were probably better left buried in the surrounding Massachusetts woods…

First, the good.

The atmosphere in this book is deliciously dark. Olivia finds herself on several secret missions through the nighttime streets of Claflin and its innermost sanctums. Dread dogs her every step, and almost nowhere feels safe as the list of suspects piles up. As it should, the tension ranks up as well, until you’re speeding through each chapter trying to learn more answers. It was an exercise in patience not to jump to the last line of every chapter before properly finishing.

I liked the bittersweet ending. I won’t spoil anything, of course, but not wrapping everything up nicely fit the twisted, relentless conclusion to the mystery. You get a sense that maybe everything will be fine, but there’s still the opportunity for more people to get hurt and for our protagonist to fall further from grace.

It almost felt like The Craft but without the magic: a scenario where high school girls are supposedly banding together but are actually backstabbing each other to get ahead until the group falls apart. Especially in the case of our main character trying and failing to fit in, and the group leader always snubbing her for being poor or weak or whatever.

The rest of the book I was pretty lukewarm on.

High school thrillers have lots of tropes that I don’t find particularly appealing, if only because they pop up with such objective shock that you almost roll your eyes at them. Like, the characters will be shocked to hear that a teacher slept with a student, but you, the reader, are like, “Been there, done that, whatever,” because it’s such a common trope. Almost every time a grand reveal happened in this book, I had that reaction. Sure, it’s gross to learn that a teacher slept with a student, but you almost expect it in this setting. Sure the murderer turned out to be the person everyone expects, but, well, everyone should have seen it coming, so it’s just not that much of a shock.

There were also a few too many red herrings, so it got a little exhausting to have my expectations turned around so many times.

Don’t get me wrong, the book was entertaining, but it just wasn’t, well, thrilling. I was compelled to finish the story (heck, I burned through almost half the book in one sitting), but it’s certainly not going to stick with me. If not for this blog, I probably would have forgotten about the book instantly and gone on to a new book very soon after.

That might also have to do with Olivia’s relationship with the other Ivies not feeling quite as fleshed out.

Olivia talks a lot about how the Ivies left her out of a lot of things, but you don’t quite get the full breadth of it. She’s clearly the odd one out in the group, but you don’t get a sense of feeling snubbed. The other Ivies are awkward around her, but not quite awkward enough. No one calls her out enough on being different, like by pointing out her clothes or her hair or anything else. Of course, maybe that was intentional: to show that Olivia is more like the Ivies than she realizes. But still, that emotional dissonance would have made things more compelling.

In the end, this is the least interesting thriller I’ve read in a while. I’d give it a read if you want some CW-level drama with a predictable payoff or if you’re perhaps just breaking into young adult thrillers, but otherwise, it’s safe to skip.

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