Title: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Author: Scott Stambach
Genre: YA, Literary Fiction
Part of a series: No
Publish Date: August 9th, 2016
First, I bow down before the powers that are Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press. Words cannot express my gratitude for being able to get an advanced copy of this book to read. It was hilarious, sometimes vulgar, sweet and heartbreakingly beautiful all wrapped up in the not-so-pretty bow that was Ivan Isaenko and Polina Pushkin. This is the story of a young man in a hospital in Belarus who had been deformed at birth and lived in Mazyr Hpsoital for Gravely Ill Children. When a leukemia patient comes in, Ivan is in no way ready for Polina Pushkin. I warn you now, this is not the sweet fuzzy novel that First Love was, nor even the Fault In Our Stars. Stop considering this book if you can’t take perverse humor, foul language or talk of illness.
Ivan was born deformed. He has stubs for legs, one hand and three fingers. Mentally, he is brilliant- emotionally he is a bit of a gutter mouth and a jerk. What is one supposed to do at a hospital all day every day for life? Read copiously, study the other patients and terrorize the nurses of course. At seventeen he is a bit of a pervert and far too enamored of his Hui. There is only one in the whole hospital that he feels truly loves him- Nurse Natalya. When Polina comes in with Leukemia, Ivan doesn’t know what to make of her. She is interesting, beautiful and… perfect. She doesn’t belong at this hospital surrounded by mutants. As the two get to know one another and their bond grows stronger, something amazing happens. As Polina wastes away, Ivan learns to care, give and love. He learns to be braver, stronger and better. After her passing, he begins to write her story- their story- so that she will never be forgotten. The story is mainly about life- one in particular. Ivan Isaenko’s- before, during, and after Polina.
So… let’s discuss what I loved. The book was masterfully written, the characters colorful and interesting. I loved how Ivan could bring me to tears one moment with the most heartbreaking or gorgeous thought, and then seamlessly make me spew coke out of my nose laughing. In fact, I may or may not know how to be extremely vulgar in Russian now- or at least in writing because I doubt I would say it right. I loved the musical and literary references, I loved the play with words. There are so many little gems that I would love to quote, but as I have a copy that may be edited for publication I don’t dare. I was so glad that Ivan had Natalya and Polina. Can we also discuss how much I loved Nurse Natalya- far too maternal and giving. She is the sneaker of comforts. Books for Ivan, music for Polina, chocolate for another. She is the perfect mother figure for this boy.
Now, what I didn’t like…. This is going to be short. I wish I could have known more about the other patients. Or about Ivan after Polina. Or even more insight into Polina- though the way the author brings her forward is masterful. I know, I know, the things I want would fill another book. I suppose I am just not ready to let go. All in all, . Honestly, I would add another simply because the book was so surprisingly unique.
On the Adult Content Scale, due to heavy issues, drugs, sexual content, language and all around naughtiness I give it an eight. I think it is meant to be for older teens to adults.
This book comes out August 9th. Read it, though maybe not at work… everyone thinks you’re crazy when you ball, then laugh, and keep reading.
Link to book: