The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – Review by Emily Rozmus
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. ~W.B. Yeats
We need more Ivys in the world. There are plenty of Marthas; I would say that most of us have felt like Martha – been Martha. But I’d wager that there are not enough of us in this world full of weeping that have felt like Ivy – out of place yet at home, strange yet sure, untrained yet skilled. Published in 1970, Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling is more than a coming of age story, although that theme is in itself reason enough to read the book. The Changeling is a glimpse at “The Way Things are Supposed to Be” and “What Happens When They Aren’t.” Ivy,wild and odd is the perfect foil for timid and tearful Marty. The Changeling is their story.
Martha Abbott lives in the world where things are the way they are supposed to be. Her older sister and brother are nearly perfect, her parents belong to the right organizations, and her grandmother has taken little Marty under her wing to teach her the joy of gardening. In the world where things are the way they are supposed to be, also known as Rosewood Manor Estates, Martha and her family eat dinner together and talk about starting riding lessons or golf or being friends with the lovely Peters girl next door. Martha at seven is pudgy, uncoordinated and known to her family as Marty Mouse. She does what she is told, even when the lovely little Peters girl next door calls her names and teases her every time Marty attempts to be friends.
Ivy Carson lives in the world of what happens when things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. She is one of eight or nine children, many of whom have spent time in jail. They live in the crumbling old Montoya Mansion by the freeway overpass. They live there sporadically, frequently moving to avoid a bad deal or trouble with debt. Ivy is small and delicate with a wild mass of curly black hair – the trademark of the Carsons. She has lived in place after place, moving from Montoya Mansion with her alcoholic mother and corrupt father to live with her Aunt Evaline, an elderly family friend who provides stability for Ivy.
The book starts when Martha is 15, slim, and sure. In the world where things happen the way they are supposed to, her father shares with the family at dinner that the Carsons are back in town again. Quiet and contemplative, Martha returns to the world of make-believe and what if where two years earlier, she had last seen Ivy. Above Rosewood Manor is Rosewood Hills and Bent Oaks, a rocky, brush-covered landscape where Martha and Ivy created new planets, whispered magic spells, and tried to discover how it was possible to never grow up. The book is a flashback of Martha’s memories of the friend who was in her life off and on for eight years.
Small, slim Ivy and awkward Martha forget anything that is supposed to be a certain way when they are together at Bent Oaks. It is here that Ivy shares her love of dancing. It is in the wooded spot that Martha learns she can be who she wants to be, and that the person she wants to be creates new characters with personalities vastly different from her own.
The archetype of the woods, the wilderness is essential in this book. The secluded spot away from the rest of the girls’ world is where they are creative and uninhibited. It is where they find magic. Here, they chant the spell that keeps Martha from moving to Florida with her grandmother and the magic words that will stop them from ever growing up. “Know all the Questions, but not the Answers – Look for the Different, instead of the Same – Never Walk when there’s room for Running – Don’t do anything that can’t be a Game.”
Bent Oaks with its boulders, low limbs perfect for climbing and shallow caves is where Ivy first tells Martha that she is a changeling. Without a doubt, Ivy assures Martha, she was left by “gnomes, witches or fairies or trolls” after her human self was stolen by the creatures. Aunt Evaline is sure that Ivy is a wood nymph or a water sprite. Martha begins to believe in the impossible and to lose her fears and shyness because Ivy provides a platform of courage. In Ivy’s strange but self-confident stance, Martha begins to know that there can be more than just what is supposed to be. When the girls are in the woods, they can be whoever they want to be.
Being at school or around their families is a different matter, and it is where most of the conflict arises. Martha’s parents disapprove of Ivy, and Ivy’s family life is frightening to Martha. It is after her first visit to Ivy’s house when she sees a dark, shabby woman on the stairs of the home, that Ivy tells Martha that the woman was her mother, and that she is a changeling. Her refusal to claim her mother is the first hint that Ivy recognizes where she resides and that it is very different from Martha’s life.
At school, the girls weather the storm of mean Kelly Peters together. However, it is Kelly Peters who causes the friends to question each other and argue for the first and last time. Kelly’s jealousy when Ivy gets the lead dance part in the school play erupts in malice and false accusations. Ivy can no longer hide her feelings behind a wall of pretend and play, telling Martha, “Shut up! I’m no changeling. There’s no such thing as a changeling. I was lying to you. I was lying to you all the time – about everything!” The disagreement occurs right before Ivy and the Carsons move in the middle of the night, this time for the last time in the girls’ friendship.
The resolution of the book is bittersweet as Martha, sitting in the dusk of Bent Oaks waits for and sees an Ivy unchanged, still a child – a fairy child who had never grown up. The realization of who she really sees is the harsh lesson we all learn eventually – everyone grows up and life and people change. Martha, self-assured and confident, realizes that if not for Ivy in her growing up, she would have been a much different person, someone who didn’t know that the impossible was possible. In a final note from Ivy, Martha reads, “I know now I was right about being a changeling. I had to be, But lots of people are changelings, really. You might be one yourself, Martha Abbott. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The world needs more Ivys. Everyone grows up, and we fall into “The Way Things are Supposed to Be.” It is when we remember what it is like to be young, when we find a little sliver of “What Happens When They Aren’t” that we realize we are still very much a child at heart, that growing up doesn’t make us old. Read The Changeling – whether a child or an adult – and find or remember the path to the Bent Oaks of your own past.
Emily Rozmus was an English teacher and school librarian for 20 years, before she chose a new career. Since December 2013, she has been an Integration Librarian for INFOhio, Ohio’s PreK-12 online Library. She enjoys spending time with her husband, three children and cats, as well as reading, reading, reading. You can follow her on Twitter @rozmuse or read her blog museofreading.blogspot.com.