The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
Rating: 4/5 stars
“’I think the monsters are already in you’.
‘How do I kill the monsters?’
‘I don’t think you need to kill them.’
‘I think you invite them. And let them stay. And learn to live with them. Then when you die, they stop being monsters.’”
-I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review-
Ivan is a 17 year old boy living in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children. He has lived there his whole life, as he does not know his mother’s name or even his own birthday. Ivan was born without legs and only one arm that bears two fingers and thumb. It is believed that this condition was a result of radiation from a nuclear reactor. Ivan does almost the same thing every day—eat three meals alone and use the TV three hours. He goes to bed at the same time and has a set routine for getting his clothes on in the morning. Ivan believes he has each patient figured out until a girl his age walks in into the hospital. This girl, Polina, has beautiful hair that will soon be gone due to chemotherapy, as she has leukemia and was sentenced to the hospital after both of her parents died. Ivan’s entire world is turned upside down and his daily routine is shattered as he tries to figure out Polina and learn what it’s like to have a real friend and possible love.
This book was great, but it was really, really depressing. The story reads as Ivan’s diary and the language is very raw. Ivan does not sugarcoat his life of a legless boy confined to a hospital full of other ill children. He shares in great detail what it’s like trapped in that building with nurses who don’t care and patients that don’t make any conversation.
I really enjoyed the first quarter of the book because it’s when we really get to know how things work around the hospital and the other characters through Ivan’s voice. He tells us about Dennis, the boy born without a soul. Dennis spends his days rocking in his bed at a steady pace, a pace so steady that Ivan can use it to count time. We also learn about the ginger twins. These twins don’t say a word to each other, or anyone else for that matter, but somehow communicate well enough to do everything at the same time.
Polina enters the story about a 1/3 way through the novel and, although it is a very interesting plot line, I was actually more curious to hear about daily hospital life. I did think that the growing relationship between Ivan and Polina was very cute, but it didn’t grab all of my attention like I was hoping. Still, I was definitely rooting for them and the inevitable end made me very sad (sadder than I already was reading this depressing diary).
From the reviews that I’ve read, I gather that The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is very similar to The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t read the latter novel, but I’d say if you enjoy John Green books you’d probably like this one as well. A big thank you to St. Martin’s Press for a copy of this wonderful book! I really enjoyed this read.