What is most refreshing about this novel is its honesty. So many novels with young protagonists shy away from giving characters real-life problems to negotiate. Stinson, however, rolls up her sleeves and really describes what it’s like to cope with a family member’s disability. She does this with great sensitivity, carefully yet frankly discussing the reality of day-to-day life. David’s love of his sister is subject to human failings, and he expresses that exasperation by indulging in self-pity: “So, big deal Dad was actually showing an interest in what I was doing. So, big deal it didn’t last because Ivy needed something. When doesn’t she need something? When isn’t she messing up something?” Impatient thoughts like these are often followed by feelings of guilt, which David feels in equal or greater measure. Stinson’s candor may earn her a few new readers, as according to the US Census, one in twelve children has a physical or mental disability.
While What Happened to Ivy will undoubtedly resonate with families coping with the demands of special needs children, it can also be enjoyed for the well-wrought story that it is. Stinson has created a very relatable protagonist in David. His unfiltered thoughts and feelings ring true, making his walk through the aftermath of his sister’s death a worthwhile trip to take.