Summary: During the summer before starting high school, Ivy receives an odd phone call from her former friend Virginia. Convinced she has been visited by an angel and is going to have God’s baby, Virginia wants Ivy to bear witness to these miraculous events, but Ivy is skeptical. In her own home life, Ivy is dealing with an alcoholic mother who defies any interventions, and a sister who is getting married, much to her mother’s dismay. Still Ivy finds the time to follow up on her concern for Virginia, picking up on the strange vibes from Virginia’s family and investigating their religious beliefs. All is not as it seems and the culmination just after Ivy’s sister’s wedding will change everything.
Number of Pages: 287
Age Range: 15-17
Review: A lot is going on in Susan Hughes’ Virginia. Ivy’s trying to live somewhat peacefully with her alcoholic mother. Virginia’s being visited by a messenger of God, and her brother Paul is busy starting his own extremist religion.
Okay, so it sounds a bit over the top, but it turned out to be a great philosophical read about the fine line between faith and madness. I still can’t decide if Virginia was actually seeing an angel, or if she had a mental illness that made her see an angel, but it was really a hallucination. Either way, I believed that she believed she was being visited by an angel – and to me it means it doesn’t matter if the angel was real or not, because he was real to her.
But I did wonder, was an angel visiting Virginia because she was so upset over her brother Paul’s plans? Or is it possible she was also being abused by Paul and being visited by an angel, a source of comfort in Virginia’s life, was her way of coping. And also preparing herself for a possible pregnancy. By the time I had finished the book I still had questions, but I liked the mysterious and slightly mystical nature of Virginia’s part of the story.
Paul was… surreal. I know some people are charismatic and others seem to have supernatural ability to draw people to them, but what Paul could do to people seemed to be a bit beyond that. Dubbing himself “The Watchman” in reference to the Bible, he is obsessed with aiding God in bringing about the end of the world. It all seems to escalate after Virginia’s and Paul’s father dies unexpectedly, and then it further escalates when their mother has a heart attack.
I found that part interesting because losing a parent is like the end of the world. So I could see how maybe Paul’s grief put him over the edge in a highly extreme way, enough to want to go on a religious quest to help God bring down Earth more quickly. Although, on the other hand, with both parents having heart attacks, I wondered if Paul orchestrated them instead of just suffering from grief afterwards. Again, it’s hard to tell.
The part of the book that made the most logical sense was Ivy’s story, and it was powerful. Ivy gradually learns ways to distance herself from her mother, and finally takes in that her mother’s life is hers to destroy as she wants. But ultimately, it doesn’t mean Ivy’s life will be destroyed, because she is free to make her own decisions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the mental gymnastics I went through considering topics of true faith, mental illness, megalomania, virgin pregnancies, and true friendship, even after years of having no contact.
“Staying in control. It’s important. And maybe that’s why people try to look for signs of what lies ahead, or believe in God. Maybe that’s why some people read their horoscope or try to interpret lines on palms. So they can stay in control. So they can use these signs to make sense of the world, to make the right choices, to stay safe or even stay ahead of the game. I guess others decide they just don’t want to know what might happen, especially if it’s something bad coming their way. They stick their heads in the sand, turn away from any indications that things aren’t quite right, ignore the butterflies that unsettle their stomachs when certain ideas, implausible, impossible, are spoken, are set in motion.” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 9
“An angel came to her? She’d been chosen to have a child, from God? I wasn’t religious, but I knew this story. It was Christmas all over again. That’s how Jesus was born. And angel had come to Mary and told her that she would have God’s child, and then … well, the rest is history, or not, depending on what you believe.
Virginia had to be kidding. Sure, she was a Christian – a Catholic – but she couldn’t really believe this had actually happened, could she? It was a story. The virgin birth was definitely a symbol of … something – I wasn’t sure what – but it had to be about as connected to reality as the number of crows flying outside this window was to the actual future. And here was Virginia telling me that something that couldn’t possibly have happened the first time was going to happen again.” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 53
“I couldn’t answer. She was behaving like a regular person, speaking in a normal tone, asking a standard question. She had emerged from her cocoon of drink and wandered into the dinner hour in the life of her daughter and husband. It wasn’t fair. It was so simple, and she made it look easy. For a moment, I let it wash over me, the relief of it, and almost instantaneously felt regret. Because as I took that full deep breath of relief, anger also escaped, overwhelming everything else. It made me want to scream. There was no normal anymore. She had taken that from us. I couldn’t even feel good making dinner with my mother because normal was something weird and strange, and so unexpectedly pleasant that it made me furious to be reminded of all the other times when it wasn’t like this and when it wouldn’t be like this. Feeling good about it required months of it, years of it, so that it was so common, so taken-for-granted that I didn’t even notice it. Why should I have grab for these tiny fragments of how life should be? Why did she have to do this to me?” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, pages 79-80
“I listened to her, wondering. It was odd. She was the center of our family. We circled around her, treading water. Anyone watching would have thought she was what was holding us together in our synchronized pattern, when in the fact she was the one who was drowning and almost taking us down with her. It was only our superhuman efforts to stay afloat, to keep our heads up, that kept her up, too. She struck out at us, grasping instead of supporting, and we, too frightened to watch her sink, refused to give up contact.” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 90
“I leaned back in my chair, my eyes still closed. And for a moment, resting there, wanting more than anything to open my eyes and see something fantastic and all-powerful, something that could look after me, all this, and everything else that was beyond me, I could understand how Virginia might allow herself to sink into a belief that was so impossible.” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 166
“Virginia had wanted to tell her that an angel had come, and that she would be having a baby, and that he was God’s gift. He was a sign to them that they could resist – all of them – what was life destroying, what was drawing them into dark, dangerous places, and everything would be all right. But she wasn’t certain how to put all this into words, because it was more about feelings and faith, and so she had just stood there with her for a time, on this wedding day.” – Virginia from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 253
“Katie was burning her eyes into mine. ‘Ivy, she can’t wreck my party. Do you understand that? She can’t wreck it.’ She shook me slightly. ‘She can’t wreck my life. She’s my mother, and she’s your mother, but she can’t wreck our lives. She can wreck her own life. It looks like that’s what she’s doing, and I’m sorry about that, but she can’t wreck mine. She’s not me.'” – Katie from Virginia by Susan Hughes, page 262
“It’s a habit for me to count the crows now, even though I don’t really believe they can help us know what is to come. I do find it appealing, though, to imagine that what lies ahead is somewhat predictable, that we’re pieces within a bigger picture, that we’re moving toward something good and complete. But Paul used that to justify what he was doing. So I’d like to think that if there’s someone or something greater than us, if there is some divine plan, some bigger picture that we’re moving toward, then its final form is not really decided yet. And maybe it’s what we do in the world – our individual choices, decisions, and beliefs, the responsibilities we decide to take on, and how we decide to fulfill those – that will shape the details of that picture, fill it in, give it color and substance, and even breathe life into it.” – Ivy from Virginia by Susan Hughes, pages 286-287