Ivy and the Meanstalk

ivyandthemeanstalk By Dawn Lairamore [LibraryThingGoodreads]

Fourteen-year-old Princess Ivy is an intrepid sort, so when an enormous beanstalk erupts out of the castle grounds, she and her dragon buddy Elridge fly to the top to get to the bottom of it. There they discover an enraged – and exhausted – giantess. Ever since a kid named Jack stole her magic harp – and killed her husband – hundreds of years ago, she hasn’t been able to get a wink of sleep. Ivy and Elridge must hurry to the kingdom of Jackopia to retrieve the harp before the giantess wreaks her vengeance – but the king of Jackopia is none too keen to give up his ancestor’s treasures.

Sigh. This book frustrated me, you guys. It had so much potential! But it never quite managed to live up to it.

Essentially, this is a standard fractured fairy tale-style middle grade novel, very much in the spirit of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series, or the lovely Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl: a spunky young heroine, assorted bits and pieces of fairy tales and fairy tale tropes, a tongue firmly in cheek. I liked it for that alone; I always approve of making fairy tale-ish heroines more proactive, and plucky young princesses and their dragon friends foiling fairy tale villains are all things that hit particularly close to my heart.

The problem is that Ivy isn’t, actually, all that proactive. She’s spunky, sure, and willing to hurl herself into adventures. But beyond that, she’s pretty blank as a personality, and the further along the book went, the less she actually did. Though Ivy remains the gung-ho central figure, it’s the male characters around her who move the plot forward. Her friend Owen the stable boy comes up with a plan to escape Jackopia, Elridge makes their heroic flight to freedom, and the young prince of Jackopia comes up with the solution that saves the day when they’re caught by his father. In fact, through the second half of the book these three characters are constantly urging Ivy into action. I kept hoping Ivy would do something herself, but she never did – and “spunky” does not suffice as a complete personality if the protagonist doesn’t at least have enough spunk to make decisions.

The other problem is that the book…well, it isn’t funny. There are funny concepts, yes, like a neurotic dragon and a cranky talking goat and an obnoxiously elaborate dress made of flowers. The ludicrous of the capital city of Jackopia, where everything is made of golden eggs laid by descendents of Jack’s famous goose, is ripe for humor. But though those things are all meant to be funny, the prose simply doesn’t sell it. It’s not quite sharp enough, not a distinctive enough voice. It doesn’t sparkle.

Again, I love love love the idea of this book, and I suspect many young readers will enjoy it just fine as it is. But for a funny book about a plucky fairy tale heroine, it was neither funny nor plucky enough for me, and gets only three cupcakes. It is a sequel, and its predecessor, Ivy’s Ever After, may well be better (the Amazon description, admittedly, sounds pretty great), but Ivy and the Meanstalk didn’t charm me enough to find out. If you read the first one, let me know what you think!

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