No Ivy League explores the idea of checking your privilege through the lens of creator Hazel Newlevant. As made clear in their accompanying author note, the experiences described in the narrative had an impact on the way they viewed themselves in relation to others. Using watercolour washes – depicting the lush forests of Portland, the monochrome colouring of the entire comic leans towards a green tone, also emphasising the idea of the forest even in the scenes set in interiors.
Opening with a display of the youthful charm involved in this coming-of-age story, Hazel and their friends Shane, Eiren and Anson are shown filming a video, for a competition which we find out about later. It’s essentially a scene of children playing dress-up under the guise of film-making, really setting the age range of these characters. As well as introducing this group this scene brings one of the major aspects of this narrative to the fore.
The catalyst for Hazel’s changes in perspective is their summer job as a member of the ‘No Ivy League’ from which the comic derives its title. Newlevant goes into some detail throughout about the importance of removing ivy in order to help trees survive in a more obvious display of Hazel’s learning experience over the summer. Through the summer job Hazel gets introduced to a number of new people and with that follows some new ideas about their position in terms of the group dynamic as well as in society more generally. For example, Hazel is often portrayed as an outsider partly due to their home-schooling but also as a result of the cultural differences between their upbringing and that of the majority here. One very clear display of this is the fact that they’re vegan.
As well as looking at issues of race and class the comic also touches on sexual harassment and how these frequently intersect. Through the experiences of their summer Newlevant is shown understanding these concepts in a less abstract, more practical sense. In one scene they go to the library and the book begins quoting scholarship on the subjects they are thinking about, emphasising learning through multiple voices and allowing a broader understanding of such involved concepts.
No Ivy League highlights some of the challenges of self-discovery experienced as a result of growing up. Carefully focusing on a particular set of events that are specific to the creator. It gives a fair and honest approach to how it feels to be a teenager including some of the more embarrassing thoughts and feelings experienced whilst growing up.
Hazel Newlevant (W/A) • Lion Forge, $14.99
Review by Holly Raidl