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When Ivy is born, into the poorest of poor circumstances in a 19th-century slum in London, her father predicts a life of trouble for the red-haired baby. His predictions come true after he dies and her mother leaves. Ivy must live with her aunt's shiftless, thieving family, in shabby Paradise Row.

When Ivy is five years old, her cousin Jared attempts to swindle money out of Mrs. Merrifield and Mrs. Larrington of the Ragged Children's Welfare Association. The welfare ladies not only give the family money, but they insist on placing Ivy and her cousin Orlando in a school. Ivy's aunt and uncle are quite unimpressed with the notion of an education for the two children --- until they hear there's a lunch involved.

Ivy herself does not care to go to school, but she is resigned. However, on the first day of class, the little girl not only has to stand in a corner, she ends up urinating there. But the worst part turns out to be bacon in the cabbage soup. Ivy does not, will not and cannot eat meat. She runs away from school, only to get lost on London's streets.

Ivy knows to look for a "bluebottle" (policeman) to direct her back to Paradise Row. Meanwhile, she is starving and nearly crying as she trots along. Then she notices a very tall lady staring at her. Ivy feels a kinship with the stranger since they both have red hair. When the woman, who introduces herself as Carroty Kate, offers to share her orange, Ivy not only eats the fruit but she lets Kate take the boots that the welfare ladies gave her to wear to school.

As it happens, Kate is a thief, specializing in stealing children's clothing to resell. She has no intention of helping Ivy until a passing woman holding a child's hand smiles upon them in an "I know how it is" manner. Kate realizes that she can use Ivy to scam people. She takes her home to a lodging house that is crammed full of colorful scoundrels but is also strangely cozy. Kate's feller, Fing, adds to the ambience by cooking up humble yet tasty food.

Ivy enjoys living with Kate, for the most part. But she is appalled when Kate takes her out to "earn her keep," which involves tricking a little girl out of her stylish and expensive clothes. She also hates sleeping in the cupboard, which has been painted with a creepy design that gives Ivy nightmares. To quell her night-time screams, Kate begins giving her drops of laudanum, the quite available opium syrup taken by many people for nerves and insomnia…or whatever might ail a person.

By the time Ivy returns to her aunt and uncle, she is addicted. Her laudanum dependency continues into her teen years, rendering her sluggish and sleepy. Yet she is striking, with her red hair, pale skin and hazel eyes. When artist Oscar Frosdick spies her, he persuades her to model for him. Unfortunately, this displaces his former model, his mother --- who takes murderous offense.

Julie Hearn --- author of THE MINISTER’S DAUGHTER and SIGN OF THE RAVEN --- transports readers smack-dab into the gritty world of London's 19th century slums, painting it with vibrant description, eccentric characters and much black humor. Ivy's story gripped me with its fast-paced, unpredictable plot, filled with skullduggery, mayhem and the tantalizingly remote possibility of redemption. In fact, I had a difficult time closing IVY until I reached the satisfying end.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 18, 2011

by Julie Hearn

  • Publication Date: June 17, 2008
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416925066
  • ISBN-13: 9781416925064