Book Review: No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant (2019)

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Starts slowly, builds into something real, and then ends abruptly and with no resolution.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for sexual harassment and racism.)

Raised in Portland, Oregon, cartoonist Hazel Newlevant was homeschooled by their* parents (for hippie reasons, not religious ones), resulting in a somewhat sheltered childhood. When they were seventeen, they got a summer job removing English ivy and other invasive plants from the local parks and forests. The youth “No Ivy League” project immersed Newlevant in the high school experience they’d been missing (or slimmed down, summer vaca version of it, anyway). This is Newlevant’s memoir, in graphic novel format, of these formative months.

As Newlevant works alongside at-risk youths, most of them black and brown, Newlevant becomes increasingly aware of their own privilege – and, by extension, that of all the home-schooling families that make up their social circle. (The scene where Newlevant asks a friend if he knows any black home schoolers is a light bulb moment.) After a co-worker’s inappropriate comments to Newlevant result in his dismissal – never mind a similar incident, directed at a black girl, which went unpunished – Newlevant begins the long and never ending process of unpacking their own privilege.

No Ivy League carries the promise of a powerful narrative of allyship, but it never quite reaches its potential. Perhaps this is because I read an early ARC, which I suspect wasn’t 100% finished. When some of the panels started lapsing into rough sketches instead of polished illustrations, I initially thought it intentional, as if to convey mental distress. Yet the last few pages are obviously not done, and the story ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution.

Newlevant’s parents’ admission that their decision to homeschool was a direct response to integration isn’t really followed up on; like, was there ever a confrontation or discussion about it? Likewise, the parallel video contest and #HomeschoolingSoWhite plot lines seemed certain to converge – like, maybe Newlevant uses the win of the former to help educate, protest, or raise awareness of the latter – but nope. Everything just kind of…trails off.

On the plus side: there’s some vegan rep, so yay for that!

* Newlevant’s preferred pronouns are they/them.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

PETA, the KKK and the AKC

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Just for the record – and because it’s starting to feel like all-PETA, all the time around here, Dog help us all – this shit is so unbelievably uncool:

NEW YORK – “Is this really the KKK?” somebody asked the woman in the white robe and the pointy hat.

Crowds gawked at a table set up outside Madison Square Garden on Monday afternoon, where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was protesting the start of the Westminster Kennel Club show. PETA contends that the American Kennel Club promotes pure-breeding of dogs that is harmful to their health.

“Welcome AKC Members,” read a banner hanging from the table — with AKC crossed out and KKK written above it. Two PETA protesters dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, while other volunteers handed out brochures that read: “The KKK and the AKC: BFF?” […]

Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn’t stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos.

I wasn’t going to mention this latest offense – I’m so, so sick of talking about PETA – but it landed on one of the larger feminist blogs today, so meh. Lest I be branded a shill for PETA (zomg, I defend them on occasion!), perhaps I’d better weigh in.

While I think the comparison that PETA’s making is a valid one – namely, that the AKC is akin to the KKK inasmuch as the two fetishize a “pure,” “master,” genetically superior strain of beings (be it “race” or “breed”), going to unconscionable lengths to achieve this racist/breedist dream – certainly they can do so without parading around NYC in sheets and hoods, no?

Not only is the Klan gear unnecessary for their analogy (the comparison works quite well without it, methinks), it’s also distracting from the message – the controversy lands on NBC, yes, but the discussion becomes more about PETA’s racism than the AKC’s destructive policies.

Most importantly, by donning a potent, contemporary symbol of racism, PETA (yet again) demonstrates their complete lack of sensitivity and concern for marginalized groups other than non-human animals. While I don’t expect them to join in marches for the Jena 6 or crusade for better public housing for the urban poor – after all, they are an animal rights group – I do expect them to refrain from engaging in other “isms,” including racism. Gleefully foisting such an infamous, lasting symbol of hatred upon the public, some of whom may be traumatized by the experience (because of both the collective, ancestral and individual, first-hand experience with this hatred) is inexcusable. It’s racist, plain and simple. And any attempts to justify this behavior with appeals to the “oppression Olympics” (e.g., “but animals have it worse!”) or by claiming that the ends somehow justify the means (“at least they got us talking about it”) are privileged at best.

(More below the fold…)