It’s okay, after this book there’s only one left in the series and we can put these tragic books away. But rest assured: out of all of them, this one is by far the one that made me go “WTF?” the most. By a long shot. And that is saying something, considering all the others have not exactly been classics of English literature.
Audacious: Ivy’s Story, Jude Watson, 1996.
The “plot” of this one (if plot isn’t too strong a word—we might alternately go with “vaguely thought-out premise” for the same idea) is that Ivy Nesbitt, the sister of Mattie Nesbitt (in the last terrible one of this series I reviewed), is a sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad and lonely, oh so lonely, broken spinster-woman. At the old, old, old, extremely elderly age of eighteen. It’s OK if you just threw up your hands and made a face at the computer. That’s the face I made at the book the whole time I was reading it.
Ivy and her sister are from Maine, where after the death of their parents they made a stab at keeping the family farm, but it eventually failed. They had no money and only a maiden aunt left, so they headed off to become miners’ brides after seeing the “Brides Wanted” ad. Ivy spent the whole time weeping and wailing and sobbing because of her broken heart, though. She had been in love with a boy, Jamie, her whole childhood, and everyone thought they were going to get married one day until they went for a sail, got lost in the fog, and had to spend the night on an island alone with no chaperone. Jamie then decided he wanted to be a sailor and left just after that, which meant everyone in their town was convinced that he’d Had His Way With Her and then fucked off. In fairness, that’s a pretty reasonable assumption.
So Ivy, the world’s most depressed and extremely elderly 18-year-old spinster, starts teaching the school in Last Chance. The school has not made an appearance in these books yet, and it has the air of something plot-device-ily shoehorned in to give her a reason for living. The school has barely any money, and is inexplicably (and plot-device-ily) located up a huge ridge rather than…you know, on the main street of the town, which conveniently gives Ivy a great reason for her sort-of-not-really beau, Justus Calhoun, to walk her home every night. Weirdly, as you will notice if like me you have been committing these horrid books to memory, that’s the same Justus Calhoun who was the evil groom of Savannah in the very first book. And he came to their town to seek out Savannah and then was magically transformed from the horrid, bourbon-swilling monster to the calm, relaxed person he becomes in this book….by the healing power of the mountains? Who even knows.
So Ivy is busy being lonely and writing letters to a friend back home, and the friend writes back that her letters are just so fascinating and so intriguing and so shocking that she sent them to a friend of hers who happens to be the editor of a Boston paper, and said editor wants to publish them! No way! (Don’t you wish it was that easy to land a writing gig? I do.) So Ivy writes to the editor and says she’ll write under a pseudonym, and comes up with the name Audacia El Dorado. I don’t know why. Well, no, I do know—Audacia because she’s just so AUDACIOUS, and El Dorado because…California, gold, something something I don’t care.
So Ivy starts writing all the crazy stories of all the crazy things that happen in their crazy, crazy mining town, but doesn’t tell anyone. Everyone there knows her as shy, mousy, prim-and-proper Ivy, so she’s afraid that her writing career will ruin her reputation again. I do have to think that reputation would be somewhat less of an issue here, but whatever, I’m not her. The San Francisco paper starts printing her columns, and suddenly everyone in their town is reading them and gossiping about who it can possibly be. You know, I think they would have something better to talk about, but come on. Anyway, Ivy and Justus-not-a-real-beau are walking home from a meeting when Justus starts going on and on about how they obviously weren’t written by a woman because the style is “crisp and clean, not sentimental at all.” Ivy starts bitching about “Have you ever heard of a little book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin?” OKAY. While I get that it’s a good book and one that contemporary readers would know, it is not exactly what I would call NOT SENTIMENTAL. Have you read the book? FINE.
Anyway, they’re arguing about whether or not women can be writers, and Justus “growled” “I know of a better way to quiet you” and kisses her. What is with all the vaguely non-consensual kissing in this series???? But Ivy likes it anyways, clearly, but then pretends she hated it, and then gets righteously angry at him—not for kissing her to shut her up (!!!), but because he treats her like a delicate flower. What.
And then randomly Jamie Rayburne, her first love from Maine, shows up in town. Why??? Because we need an antagonist, that’s why. He claims that he has always loved Ivy and was desperate to see her again, and Ivy takes two seconds to think she’s angry and then shrugs and is like hey, whatever, I’ll bring you home to dinner! Why not? I hate Ivy. He spills the news that Ivy is Audacia El Dorado, which he heard from corresponding with one of their Maine friends, and then everyone in town knows it, too. What the hell, why is Ivy so enamored of this guy who ruined her reputation, skipped town and broke her heart, then swoops back just to wreck some more stuff for her? Nothing about this makes sense.
Ivy is walking home with Justus from school the next Monday, and picks a fight with him for no good reason by accusing him of thinking that she is weak and he is only interested in her for being a wimpy nothing of a person. So then she goes for a picnic with Jamie, and rolls around in the grass and kisses him for a bit, then comes home like nothing is wrong. But bigger problems are afoot when her publisher asks her to come and do a reading in San Francisco. Ivy is petrified of speaking in public, and a bigger problem would be she’s not fucking Audacia El Dorado, and you’d think that her idiot publisher would have known that, no? Oh, whatever. But then Ivy gets fired from her teaching job for being immoral (writing these thrilling columns and rolling around in meadows with strange men—which, honestly, I know the school board man is supposed to be a villain, but frankly, 19th-century female teachers were expected to be paragons of virtue! Why am I even complaining about this?) and really needs the money, so she agrees to do the reading anyway.
In the meantime she makes up with Justus and kisses him a bit more in the woods (no wonder they fired you, Ivy) and arranges to borrow some clothes from Eden, the “fast” bride from the second book. She gets all these sexy red and black dresses, and then fights with Justus again because he wants her to stay in town and make a difference teaching children, and Ivy flies off the handle again about how she has a CAREER and it seems like a little bit of an exaggeration that she has suddenly decided that this is her Calling when a couple of weeks (months? Who knows?) ago, she didn’t even want to do it. But Jamie is all for her to go to “Frisco” and earn the big bucks and become famous, so off she goes with Mattie and Jamie for their exciting adventure.
Immediately Mattie gets sick with the kind of mysterious fever that strikes when fictional people need to be confined to bed but not deathly ill or anything. While she’s busy not-dying in bed, Ivy-as-Audacia is off flirting with reporters and becoming a smash hit and attracting all kinds of ridiculous attention. She goes to dinner with Jamie and kisses him in dark hallways at night, and then is EXTREMELY UPSET when another newspaper starts running all these pieces trashing her for being a slutty slutty slut-slut. I…couldn’t you see this coming? Everyone in this book is an idiot. Justus turns up to tell Ivy that it’s dangerous for her to stir up such trouble, and then Jamie is like “Nuh-uh! They think it’s Audacia! It’s all good!” See? Idiots. That evening at dinner, Jamie says that they’ve always been such good pals and co-conspirators, and he’s always loved her, so they should just get married, and Ivy is like “Sure, why not, that sounds like a solid plan.” OH COME ON.
At the reading, everyone is desperately in love with Audacia until she tells a story where the black person is the hero, not the punchline, and then everyone starts rioting and throwing tomatoes and cabbages at her. Justus appears to rescue her by dragging her offstage, while Jamie is off in the audience getting into fights and stuff, and then Justus finds out that Ivy and Jamie are “engaged” and goes off sulking. Jamie goes on and on about how awesome it will be to be married to Audacia, and Ivy points out that Audacia is a fictional creation and not a real person, and Jamie is like “No, she’s you! You’re just the same!” WHY DID YOU AGREE TO MARRY THIS MAN?
Jamie tells her that they’re going to leave that Friday on a ship because he knows the captain and he’d agreed to lower their passage, and Ivy is like….what about my things? And Jamie is like “oh, whatever, things will work out!” and Ivy’s all oh, okay. IDIOTS. Justus talks to her about it, and Ivy tells him that she really had no choice because Jamie is her first love (???), and Justus leaves because seriously, what are you supposed to say to that?
They get to the boat on Friday, and Jamie confesses that the real reason he hunted down Ivy again was because he fell in love with Audacia in her stories, and Ivy is again like “SHE’S NOT REAL, NUMBNUTS” (except in a much more subdued fashion), and then finally gives up and walks right off the ship with her things. She heads back to town, and arrives just as Justus is being elected to the town council, and Ivy realizes that he was there for her all along and just wanted the best for her. Ivy agrees to marry him, but they have to wait a while first so Ivy can “find her way” (and also not be engaged to two different men in the same week). And, presumably, they live happily ever after.
Rating: D-. I don’t even know what to make of this. This is such a horrorshow of a book I don’t even know where to start. All the characters are either idiots or doormats or pointless, and sometimes a little bit of all three. Ivy is alternately an idiot and a doormat, Jamie is a plain idiot, Justus is a doormat, and Mattie is pointless. The “plot” is so paper-thin that it’s thinner than the actual paper of the pages. Don’t read this book, I beg of you. The best thing about this book is that it means there’s only one more left in the damn series for me to review.