A comics artist who was homeschooled in Portland, Oregon, recounts their experience as a 17-year-old in a summer job clearing ivy from the nearby forest. Surrounded for the first time by publicly schooled "at-risk" teens of color, Hazel begins to awaken to the racial insularity of their life, the power of white privilege, and the hidden story of segregation in Portland.
Newlevant's tale does have some newsy import. It addresses race, class and gender while trying (and mostly succeeding) to avoid hashtaggable truisms ... Newlevant, who's won two Ignatz Awards, combines sheer talent with the supple versatility of an adroit graphical storyteller. The former quality is clear in their skillful use of monochrome watercolor, a medium whose difficulty is often underestimated. No Ivy League's pages are delicately shaded, with judicious pops of detail. Beyond that, Newlevant makes countless acute choices regarding scale, composition and pacing. Even when a single incident seems trivial, there's a complex structure operating around it ... In a world dominated by screaming headlines of global importance, it's hard to pull up short and devote your attention to anything as fragile and transitory as a feeling. No Ivy League may seem like a modest achievement at first glance, but it's got the audacity to direct you (ever so politely) to change your whole habit of thought. That's colossal.
Newlevant’s art is terrific. This is the one part of the book that didn’t leave me in flux. Their use of watercolors and the dark green Pantone shades gives No Ivy League depth and heart ... The character designs breathe life into each person on the page, and you can feel how dense and alive the forests of Portland, Oregon are. Hazel’s landscapes and background work are lovely ... The story isn’t confronting the issues it presents. No Ivy League states these new ideas and experiences Hazel is going through, but leaves the hard stuff for the reader to deal with. Putting this book down, I felt unsatisfied. There is no confrontation or conversation about the systemic white supremacy that Hazel’s mom actively participates in by putting them in homeschool. Or any resolution to the fact that the counselors never gave Kelsey the same justice that Hazel received for their harassment. No Ivy League left me with more questions than answers and honestly, I’m still up in the air on how I feel about this book.
Newlevant takes a casual, friendly pace with the events that unfold, and they depicts themself as a pretty happy kid in a pretty happy situation ... For asking such big questions, Newlevant never gets preachy, never retreats into a frantic tone, and never tries to distance themself from their own place within the questions. It’s a sober account of something a lot of people go through and, unfortunately, continue to go through.