The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach (2016)

Ages 16-Adult
The Invisible Life of Ivan IsaenkoIvan Isaenko has lived his entire 17 years in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children, where he spends his days studying and skewering the people around him, reading the books Nurse Natalya brings him, and trying to find sense in a world that he can only watch from the sidelines. Born less than two years after the Chernobyl Reactor disaster, Ivan has never known his parents. He lacks legs, and has one arm and just three fingers on his lone hand. He also has a keen intellect, a wicked sense of humour, and agoraphobia. Other than Nurse Natalya, Ivan keeps everyone at a distance. He prides himself on identifying the “three-monthers” (those whose lives are nearing the end) before the doctors do. He snoops around the hospital and finds stashes of vodka, goes regularly into a pretend catatonic state so the adults around him will let down their guard, and he also slips into Max’s room to give the two-year-old some loving attention for once in his little life. It’s not much of a life, Ivan concedes, but it’s what life has dealt him. Until Polina arrives – a beautiful teenager who has leukemia. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t sure I’d finish. While the humour emerges early, Ivan’s challenging life makes for difficult reading at first. But first-time author Stambach has constructed a delightful character whose self-deprecation and profanity-laced witty commentary soon hooks the reader in, giving us access to a young man who is ultimately no different from the rest of us who want to feel love as we try to find our place in the world. In Ivan’s own words: “…how mad I am that He put such a big life into such a small, broken box.” And for those who keep comparing it to The Fault in Our Stars – as much as I enjoyed that one, even after its slow start I’d say this is better. It’s grittier, just as funny, and more real. The book is just released this past week, so watch for it. My thanks to publisher St. Martin’s Press for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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