Jenna Bush Hager of the Today Show recently revealed her November pick for her popular “Read with Jenna” book club. Selecting a tale that weaves culture and deceit, Hager provides readers with a debut novel that hones in on a young woman with a relentless obsession.
Jenna Bush Hager picks ‘White Ivy’
In the first novel by Susie Yang, White Ivy features the story of teenager Ivy Lin, a Chinese immigrant trying to fit into the white Protestant community she’s being raised in outside of Boston. Taught by her grandmother to steal items from yard sales and second-hand stores, Ivy learns to get what she wants regardless of what action she needs to take.
Another motivation to assimilate with her community is to get the attention of Gideon Speyer, her idea of the perfect American young man. When her mother discovers Ivy’s practice of theft, she sends her to China which thwarts Ivy’s plan of wooing Gideon.
Years later when she returns to Boston, she reunites with Gideon and devises a plan to infiltrate the Speyer family. Yet her obsession with wealth and status soon catches up with her, threatening to expose her deceit.
‘Today Show’ star chose a different kind of protagonist
The Today Show star was attracted to the novel’s themes of class and race. Hager also found the main character to be a change from the norm in literary selections.
“While I always rooted for Ivy and empathized with her,” Hager commented, according to Today.com, “I didn’t always like her or agree with her choices.”
Describing the novel in an Instagram post, Hager gave some details on what drew her to select Yang’s book.
“She is definitely not your typical heroine,” the NBC anchor wrote of Ivy. “She’s striving to adjust to American culture… believing it’s built on glamour— an ideal she sees in her childhood crush, Gideon. He personifies everything sparkly about her new country… but once they reunite as adults, we find cracks in his perfect exterior. … let’s just say, she has a little problem with the truth.”
Hager let readers know they’re in for a compelling yarn. “It’s a juicy read with a shocking twist,” she posted.
Susie Yang focused on a ‘theme of otherness’
Yang revealed that she enjoys creating characters like Ivy that are against the grain, where developing Gideon’s persona was more of a challenge.
“It’s really hard to write a character that is supposed to be idealized but I didn’t want him to appear remote or kind of mysterious to the reader,” Yang said. “It was the balance of wanting the reader to understand who Gideon was but Ivy to not have the understanding of him.”
The debut novelist expects readers who have experienced feeling like an outsider to find some commonalities with Ivy’s desire for belonging.
“I feel like it is that sense of looking into a group that you are not familiar with and trying to assimilate,” Yang explained. “I think that theme of otherness is throughout the whole novel.”
Susie Yang’s novel White Ivy is now on available for purchase..
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