Read by Chloe Cannon
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When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.
Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World exquisitely enriches the rare category of female middle-grade characters who like girls–and children’s literature at large.
A storm was coming, which was perfect.
Thunder rumbled through the night, rattling Ivy Aberdeen’s bedroom windows and making a beautiful racket. She smiled and counted, only making it to two before lightning washed her room white. Ivy didn’t know why people colored bolts of lightning yellow in drawings. They were silvery blue and made her think of whispers and magic, the perfect setting for what Ivy was about to do.
She adjusted the headlamp around her forehead, the thick elastic band pulling at her hair. On her nightstand, her clock glowed green, the numbers already inching toward the time she had to get up for school, but she had a good hour at least. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and the tiny headlamp shined a yellow circle onto the notebook in her lap. She called it a notebook because there wasn’t a better word for it. She could call it a journal, but that didn’t feel right either. The book was more like a portable, papery hope chest.
Mom stored Ivy’s great-grandmother’s hope chest up here in the attic, which became Ivy’s room a few months ago so the twins could have their own space. It sat at the end of her bed and smelled like cedar and old stuff. Inside, ancient pictures and clothes and knickknacks were tucked away like secrets. There was even an old wedding dress in there, which Ivy thought was sort of creepy. When she asked about it, her mom told her that way back when, a hope chest was where a girl collected things she would need when she got married, hoping for the right boy to come along so her real life could start. Then her mother went on and on about how marriage had nothing to do with a girl’s real life and how Ivy should hope for lots of different things, not just a boy, which was a relief.
She kept her real dreams in a notebook, where everything was a complete secret. Her hope chest was securely hidden away and guarded.
Ivy aimed the headlamp’s beam at the purple-and-white cover of her notebook. It was one of those Decomposition notebooks, and she got it from her language arts teacher at school. She liked thinking about her notebook like that—decomposition. That’s what it felt like to her, anyway: taking things apart in her head and putting them down on paper so she could figure out how they worked.
Outside, the thunder and lightning snapped right alongside each other, perfect secret drawing weather. Ivy flipped through the crinkly pages and caught a glimpse of a drawing she’d abandoned a few months ago as a hopeless case. She narrowed her eyes and glared at her family sitting on the grass in a large field. The grass in this field wasn’t green, it was silver and pink with a border of blue-leafed trees. There were Mom and Dad, their eyes shining and their mouths happy, holding Ivy’s new twin brothers, Aaron and Evan, in their arms. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Layla, was right where she should be—sitting between their parents, grinning at Evan while Aaron wrapped his tiny hand around her finger.
Ivy scanned the page for inspiration. There was one person missing from this family portrait, and she couldn’t figure out where to put her.
Where to put Ivy.
She glowered at the picture and flicked the page over so hard, it tore right out of the notebook. She nearly balled it up and tossed it toward her garbage can, which was already overflowing with other drawings gone awry. But it felt weird to throw away a picture of her family, even if she wasn’t in it. Instead, she folded it up and stuffed it into her swirly blue pillowcase.
It wasn’t the picture for a night like this anyway. This night needed one of her stormy pictures, like the one she was so close to showing Layla just a couple of weeks ago. The one she wouldn’t ever, ever show her now.
She found the most recent drawing she’d been working on. There were dozens just like it in her notebook. Each one had some sort of house snuggled up in the branches of blue trees, trees on fire, trees made of gold, trees under the ocean, and trees at the tippy top of the highest mountain.
All of them had a girl with curly hair inside the house… and she wasn’t alone. Another girl was in there with her. Sometimes they were standing, looking out at flame-colored hills in the distance. Sometimes they were lying down, tucked into sleeping bags that glowed because they were covered with tiny fireflies, like a hundred little night-lights. Sometimes they were reading or, like this one, facing each other and smiling.
Ivy didn’t know who the girl was, but she wasn’t Layla, and she wasn’t her best friend, Taryn, or any of the other girls at school, who lately only wanted to talk about boys. Ivy was twelve years old and had never had a crush on a boy before, but maybe she just hadn’t met one she liked. Or maybe she couldn’t even get crushes.
That was her: Uncrushable Ivy.
But that didn’t feel right either, so really, Ivy had no idea what she thought about crushes at all.
Which was exactly why the thunder outside was perfect for this picture. When Ivy looked at it, she felt a storm in her stomach. She felt a storm in her head. She felt a storm fizzing into her fingertips and toes.
Because in every single picture Ivy drew, she and that girl were holding hands. And they weren’t holding hands like she and Layla used to hold hands when they ran down the street to play in the park. It wasn’t the way she and Taryn used to hold hands when they ran through the sprinkler in Ivy’s backyard, before Taryn got too cool to run through sprinklers and Ivy told her she was too cool for sprinklers too.
Ivy stared at the picture, chewing on her lower lip. Maybe she should rip them all out, starting with this one. She liked storms, but storms could be dangerous. And if Ivy had shown one of her stormy pictures to Layla, maybe her sister would’ve looked at her like she was weird.
She should definitely rip them all out.
Her hands shook as she closed her fingers around the top edge of the paper, ready to tear.
But she couldn’t do it. Her hand wouldn’t move that way. Instead, she swallowed the giant balloon in her throat and picked up her indigo-blue brush pen. While the real rain lashed at her window, she slipped some inky rain in between the drawn branches and leaves. She used her arctic-blue pen to zigzag in some lightning. She filled the sky with rolling silver clouds.
Before she could change her mind, Ivy colored in the girls. She used her lightest pink marker for her own hair, the color of sweet and fluffy cotton candy. In real life, Ivy’s hair was strawberry blond, with frizzy curls her mother used to braid into smooth plaits. Lately, Mom never had time to do that, and Ivy certainly didn’t want Layla to do it, so now her hair was a coiling mane of wildness all the time. But in Ivy’s notebook, her hair was a soft and pretty pink, her curls always silky.
Ivy gave the other girl dark hair, the color of a raven’s sleek feathers. She had dark eyes too—so dark blue they nearly matched the chaos of the sky. Both girls were happy inside that treehouse, their secret small and safe. Ivy wished she was there right now. It sounded like a wild adventure, sitting in that treehouse while the sky fell down around them.
Color filled up the page, and when Ivy was done, she sat back against her pillows. Her heart galloped in her chest, and she was out of breath like she’d just finished the mile run at school. It felt like the whole sky was inside her body, but she liked her picture.
She might have even loved it.
That was when she noticed how quiet it was outside.
Not the storm-was-over kind of quiet. A creepy kind of quiet. The kind of quiet that made all the tiny hairs on her arms stick straight up.
Then a few things happened at once.
One: The storm sirens in town went off, slicing through the quiet like an angry ghost.
Two: Ivy’s bedroom door flew open, and her dad stumbled in, his eyes the size of dinner plates as the beam from her headlamp hit him in the face. She slapped her notebook shut.
“Ivy, let’s go, honey.” He held out his hand, and his voice was calm like it was when he told her she had to get three teeth pulled at the dentist last year. Which is to say, not very calm at all. Fake calm.
“There’s a tornado nearby, sweetie, no time to talk. We need to get to the storm cellar.”
She kicked off her comforter and stuffed her notebook into her pillowcase, hugging it to her chest. She yanked off her headlamp just as Dad crossed the tiny room in two strides and grabbed her by the arm. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to scare her. He pulled her toward the door just as the freakiest sound Ivy had ever heard loomed over the siren.
It sounded like a train. It grew louder and louder, a locomotive that couldn’t possibly exist out here in her family’s little part of rural Georgia.
Just as Ivy and her dad reached the top of the narrow attic stairs, a third thing happened.
Ivy’s window exploded, spraying glass all over her bed and bringing the sky with it.
Ivy’s father never cursed, so when every bad word in the book flew out of his mouth, panic rose in Ivy’s throat. She whimpered like a scared animal and nearly tripped over a pile of old clothes.
On her bed, her headlamp was still switched on, its light glinting off the glass scattered over her ruined sky-blue comforter. Her gauzy curtains were torn, wrapped around twigs and green-leafed branches. She got one last look at the mess before Dad yanked her in front of him and propelled her down the stairs to the second floor.
“Daniel!” Ivy’s mother screamed her dad’s name from the first floor. She sounded more scared than Ivy had ever heard her.
“Almost there, Elise!” Dad yelled.
Her dad was a big man, and he swooped Ivy into his arms, balancing her on his hip down the next flight of stairs.
Mom and Layla waited at the bottom of the staircase near the front door. Mom had Evan strapped to her chest in the baby carrier and Aaron wrapped in a soft yellow blanket in her arms. Layla gripped the baby bag, onesies and diapers overflowing. Everyone was breathing hard, and Aaron was wailing, his little three-month-old fingers grabbing at Mom’s hair.
Pale pastels in blurry lines. That’s how Ivy would draw all of them right now if she could.
The train outside got louder and louder.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
“Ivy,” Mom gasped, reaching for Ivy with her free hand. Without a word, Layla stuffed red sneakers onto Ivy’s feet.
“I can put on my own shoes,” Ivy snapped.
“Not when Dad’s carrying you, you can’t,” Layla said.
“All right, let’s go,” Dad said before Ivy could think of a good comeback. He nodded toward the door, and Layla threw it open.
Outside was a wild adventure, stuff full of wonder and excitement when they were bright colors in a drawing, but not the kind Ivy had ever wanted to experience in real life.
The sound was painfully loud, that train huffing closer and closer. Underneath all that, there were snaps and cracks and slams. The air felt muggier than their normal southern Aprils. It was a choking kind of feeling, like the earth couldn’t breathe.
They spilled out the front door, Ivy’s arms and legs still wrapped around her dad like a koala.
“Go, go, go,” Dad said, nudging a frozen Layla with Ivy’s foot.
“But we can’t see anything!” Layla yelled over the wind. “What if it’s out there?”
“The storm cellar is just around the corner of the house,” Dad yelled back. “We’ll run. It’ll be okay.”
“What if what’s out there?” Ivy asked. She squinted through the dark, hoping for a train. A train would be so much better than what she knew was actually waiting for them.
“A tornado, Ives,” Layla said, like she thought Ivy really didn’t know.
“Elise, let Layla take—” Dad started, but Mom cut him off.
“I’ve got them. We need to go now.”
Dad pressed his mouth flat, but nodded. His arms tightened around Ivy, his eyes never leaving Mom. “On three, girls. One… two… three!”
They leaped off the porch. The world flew around them like something out of The Wizard of Oz. Tree limbs blew through the air as if they were nothing but tissue paper, while bits of dirt and pebbles stung Ivy’s face. Her hair floated upward as though she were underwater. Layla’s old bike was in the grass near their gray minivan, the handlebars twisted the wrong way. Ivy saw their mailbox, The Aberdeens written in curvy script, dented and on its side near the big oak tree. The trunk of a pear tree was broken in two, its bottom half like bony fingers reaching for the sky. Ivy had no idea where the top half was. She didn’t think she wanted to know.
Dad ran, one hand cradling Ivy’s head. The rain soaked through Ivy’s T-shirt and plaid pajama pants. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping that when she opened them again, she’d be in her bed, drawing secret pictures that scared her. That kind of scary was a lot better than this kind.
“Daddy!” Layla screamed from behind them. Ivy’s dad whirled around so fast, she saw spots.
“Oh no,” he said. Ivy could barely hear him over the wind’s fierce roar, and he set her on her feet. “Keep running for the cellar, Ivy.”
He took off back toward the house. Ivy saw Layla hovering over their mom, who was on her knees in the yard, screaming and trying to wrap Aaron back in her arms. He flailed on the grass, but his cries were swallowed up by the storm. After months of wishing he’d be quiet, Ivy would give anything to hear him screaming right now.
Dad scooped Aaron up while Layla helped Mom. She was gripping Evan’s bald head and crying. Layla was crying and Dad was crying and Ivy was crying. The whole world was crying as everything fell apart.
Dad pushed Layla forward, and she fought the wind to get to Ivy while Mom and Dad struggled behind. Ivy couldn’t see anyone clearly. They were covered in whirling hair and earth and sky. Ivy knew she should move, dive into the shelter that would tuck her underground, but she couldn’t go in there alone.
“Ivy, go!” Layla yelled, her chestnut hair sticking to her face. Hail the size of golf balls fell from the sky, and Layla screamed, covering her head. When her sister reached her, Ivy wrapped her arms around Layla’s waist, her pillow sopping wet and smooshed between them. They dragged themselves to the cellar, which was nothing more than a dirt room underground, built a century ago to store canned goods and potatoes. The entrance was a wooden door in the grass, and it shook and rattled against Ivy’s palm as she wrapped her fingers around the handle.
Before she could get it open, a horrible screeching sound exploded behind them. Layla and Ivy turned in time to see their van lifted off the ground. It spun and the metal crumpled and then the whole thing disappeared into… nothing.
There was nothing there. Ivy scrunched up her eyes, trying to see, but when she did, she wished she hadn’t.
Because there was something there. It was dark and huge and swirling, and it wanted to eat Ivy’s whole world. If she drew it, she’d use nothing but dark charcoals and twisting lines that fell off the page.
“Inside, girls!” Dad yelled as he and Mom rushed up next to them.
Ivy yanked on the door, and it yawned open, revealing a little staircase descending into the dark. She went down first, but her ankle twisted on the last step, sending her sprawling over the dirt floor. Through the pillowcase, the corner of her notebook dug into her ribs.
“Move over, Ivy!” Layla screeched. Ivy scrambled up, her ankle screaming at her as she scurried into a corner so Mom and Dad could get into the cellar.
Dad set Aaron into Layla’s arms before he ran back to shut the door. Ivy hugged her pillow to her chest, catching one more glimpse of that huge nothing looming up in front of her father. Then the door slammed shut and everything went dark.
Ivy used to think this cellar was magical. Back when Layla was a person she could trust, they’d open the cellar door and stretch out on the grass near the opening and make up stories about what was hiding down there in the dark. They weren’t allowed to go in. Mom was worried that the door would close on them and get stuck and that no one would know where they were for hours and hours. Ivy remembered arguing with her, telling her that being trapped in a dark dungeon would be an adventure.
Well, it wasn’t. It was damp and smelled like dirt and rotten potatoes, and Ivy’s clothes were soaked, and she couldn’t stop seeing that nothing swirling closer and closer. Who knew adventures could be so terrifying?
Above them, the door rattled and the sky roared. It wasn’t a beautiful sound. It was ugly and had teeth behind it as the train chugged on and on. Ivy didn’t know what it was running over and crashing into and ripping apart. She didn’t want to know. She just wanted to go back to bed. She wanted her treehouse on top of a mountain.
Next to her, she thought Dad was holding Aaron again. She couldn’t really see anything, but she heard him singing softly to keep her baby brother calm. Somewhere in the dark, Mom probably had her nose smooshed against Evan’s head. Her headlamp, abandoned on her glass-covered bed, sure would have come in handy right now.
Layla fumbled for Ivy’s hand. Ivy grabbed on, and she was so relieved that tears stung her eyes.
“Ivy,” her sister said, squeezing her hand even tighter.
“Yeah?” Ivy’s voice sounded tiny, and she could barely hear herself over the noise outside.
“Should we make this a Harriet story? Maybe it’s not really a tornado. Maybe it’s really the magical north wind come to transform us into…”
Layla’s words trailed off like she was waiting for Ivy to fill in the next line. They used to make up stories all the time. Mom had written and illustrated the Harriet Honeywell books, a chapter book series, for the past four years. She would always brainstorm with Ivy and Layla, letting them spill all their ideas into her lap. The first book was even dedicated to “My brilliant girls, without whom Harriet would never have been born.” Stories, written and drawn, were in the Aberdeen girls’ blood.
But Ivy didn’t want to make up stories with Layla anymore.
“This isn’t some fairy tale,” Ivy said after a few seconds. “This is serious.” She pulled her hand away from her sister’s, thinking she’d feel triumphant and grown up. Really, Ivy just felt lost. She laced her own fingers together and squeezed, but it wasn’t the same as Layla’s hand in hers.
“I know it’s serious, Ives.” Layla sounded exasperated and hurt, and it made Ivy’s stomach feel sour. She never talked to Layla like that. She knew she sounded like Mom when they used to get in trouble for playing hangman during church. Ivy didn’t know how to be around her older sister anymore. Not since Layla and Gigi stopped being friends.
“This will be over soon,” Dad said. “Then we’ll go back to—”
But he never got to say whatever they might have gone back to because the loudest sound Ivy had ever heard exploded outside.
A crunch and a smash and a crumble and a boom.
Ivy clapped her hands over her ears and colored the sounds in her head. Carbon black and clear glass, the deep russet of their front porch. Squeezing her eyes closed, she shook her head, her hair tickling her arms. Those colors were scary, so she brushed them over with fuchsia starbursts and flowers with cobalt stems and a house nestled among gold-and-emerald-striped branches. She made a whole new and beautiful world, even as she worried that her own world was coming undone.
It was over in a blink. All that noise turning into an eerie silence. Ivy’s lungs seemed to have stopped working, and she knocked a fist against her chest to get them started again.
“Dad,” Layla whispered. “What was all that?”
“I don’t know,” he said. His breathing must have just started up again too, because it sounded raspy and quick.
They sat for another few minutes, but it felt like five hours. Mom was totally silent, invisible in the dark. Ivy wanted to crawl into her lap, but her lap was pretty full with Ivy’s baby brother right now, just like it always was.
“Is it over?” Ivy asked.
“I think so,” Dad said. “Stay here. Let me check.”
Ivy heard rustling as her dad stood up. Aaron squawked a little, and Layla shifted next to Ivy, so she knew her sister was holding him now. No one spoke, and Ivy was sure they all held their breath while the cellar door squeaked open. The storm siren got louder. It was barely any lighter outside, but Ivy made out Dad’s silhouette against the greenish-black sky.
He climbed the steps, but stopped when his shoulders were out and pressed his fingers into the grass. His head turned this way and that. The storm siren wound down, like a balloon deflating on a slow leak. Ivy waited for a sigh of relief, a laugh, anything to tell them it was okay.
But none of that happened. In fact, a whole lot of nothing happened. Dad stood frozen on the third-to-top step, staring in the direction of their house.
“Dad?” Ivy asked. Mom shushed her. Dad stayed on the steps but tangled both his hands in his dark hair.
“Dad?” Layla asked. No one shushed her.
He didn’t move, his hands still on top of his head.
Mom’s voice seemed to snap him out of it. He released a huge sigh and turned, his eyes roaming over Ivy and Layla until they landed on Mom.
Then he said a silly thing. A wild thing. An impossible thing.
“It’s gone. Everything. It’s all gone.”
Gone was not a word Ivy thought she would ever use to describe a house. A person, maybe. Summer vacation. The last of the chocolate cake. But not a house. And certainly not her house.
Dad was the funny one in their family, always trying to get her more serious mother to laugh. He called it his mission in life, to make his girls smile. So Ivy really hoped that was what he was doing when he said gone.
It’s gone. Everything. It’s all gone.
Possible translation: That rickety shutter on the living room window that always smacked against the house whenever the wind blew was gone. Then they’d all laugh over how Mom couldn’t nag him anymore about replacing it.
- "Blake captures all the exhilaration of a first crush without shying away from Ivy's confusion....The sisters' relationship is one of the great rewards of this novel that includes a large and vivid cast of secondary characters, who give the story its sense of abundant texture."—The New York Times Book Review
- "There are some books that we never forget. This is one of those books. Impactful, emotional, and important."—Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery award-winning author of Hello, Universe
- "A tenderhearted novel that should be in the hands of every reader."—Kat Yeh, author of The Truth About Twinkie Pie and The Way to Bea
- "Ashley Herring Blake's novel captures the confusion, thrills and heartache of a first crush so perfectly that you will hold this book close to your heart."—Lisa Yee, author of the DC Super Hero Girls series
- * " Ivy's story is no mere niche-filler in LGBTQ middle-grade realism--it's a standard-setter."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- * "Filling a much-needed gap in middle grade literature, this story addresses not just the topic of a first crush, but also the invisibility frequently felt by middle children...Young readers will find Ivy's challenges very real and will sympathize with her choices, both good and bad."—School Library Journal, starred review
- * "This is an emotionally sensitive and elegantly written novel about loss and the first stirrings of love."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "This necessary and emotionally complex addition to the body of middle-grade literature offers readers a positive, complex, and courageous portrayal of burgeoning sexuality and relationships within the world of junior high."—Booklist
- "Blake creates a sensitive portrayal of a preteen who's begun to figure herself out but isn't sure how she meshes with others, and of the bumbling and overstressed, but well-meaning, friends and family around her."—The Horn Book
- On Sale
- Mar 6, 2018
- Hachette Audio