Earlier this year, I loved Sarah Beth Durst's Ice, so when I got an e-mail directly from her in August asking if I wanted a review copy of her next book, I immediately said yes! A book about the college search that also features gargoyles and dragons? I was intrigued.
Lily Carter is only a junior in high school, but she's already well into the college application process. When her grandfather takes her to his reunion weekend at Princeton, it's supposed to be for a rather standard tour of her dream school, but turns out to be much, much more, after its revealed that she's been selected to take the top secret Legacy Test. Passing the test means automatic acceptance into Princeton. All she has to do is find the Ivy Key.
As she begins her search, Lily is joined by Tye, a boy who apparently has an excess of school spirit, judging by his orange and black striped hair. But all is not as it seems on Princeton's campus, as the famous gargoyles begin talking to Lily, revealing there are actually two parallel Princeton campuses, one ordinary and the other magical, the two universities created to foster understanding between the two worlds. But it has been a long time since there's been a key to open the gate from the ordinary side. Lack of contact has fostered rumors and fear-mongering about what lies on the other side of the gate in both worlds, and Lily finds herself and family secrets she didn't even know about are now at the center of a power struggle - and it's possible that whichever side wins will lead an attack on the other.
Lily's hopes and worries about college definitely brought me back to my own college search. It's funny, considering choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions we make as teenagers that there aren't more books centered around the search. Usually the only time I see colleges mentioned is when an overachieving student is freaking out over her applications, or an underachieving student has made community college plans far in advance. Even with all the fantastic magical stuff going on in this novel, Durst does an excellent job bringing out the normalcy in Lily.
I also really liked Lily's family ties. She lives with her mother and grandfather, as her father died in an accident years ago, and since then her mother has been sliding towards senility. It's obvious that Lily truly loves her mother, but I liked that Lily wasn't a perfect daughter and sometimes a blip of frustration would creep in - never enough to make Lily seem cruel towards a sick woman, but enough to make Lily a believable kid who sometimes just wants a normal mother.
This story wasn't nearly as epic in scope as Ice, and actually follows many tropes of paranormal romance that are in danger of becoming predictable. As soon as the mysterious Tye appeared, I was on the lookout for another handsome boy to be his rival for Lily's affections, as it seems paranormal romances all require a love triangle these days. I'm also really skeptical of stories that bring up soul mates, as it seems like an easy way to get your characters to hook up, rather than building up a believable romance. I think Bear took this tactic in Ice, but we got to see him and Cassie together for months, so we could see Cassie's affections develop. Here the story takes place over the course of a weekend, followed by a final chapter set several months later that confirms what direction the romance went.
This was an enjoyable read, certainly - I actually read it all in one sitting - but not a "must have." If you're looking for a fantasy take on the college process, with mysterious family secrets and some cute boys, pick this one up, but otherwise I wouldn't go out of my way.
Reviewed from review copy received from publisher. Enchanted Ivy is on sale today!