Going Under


Because all my life had been a chrysalis, with you, Ada and Marshall and our house; even though we did other things and saw other people, the summers at the lake, and all those homeschoolers' parties, it was still always just - us.

Hilly and her brother, Ivan, have been homeschooled by their parents. All their lives it has been just the two of them - Ivan and Hilly, brother and sister, pilot and copilot. Until Hilly breaks out of their cozy cocoon to work on the local high ...

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Because all my life had been a chrysalis, with you, Ada and Marshall and our house; even though we did other things and saw other people, the summers at the lake, and all those homeschoolers' parties, it was still always just - us.

Hilly and her brother, Ivan, have been homeschooled by their parents. All their lives it has been just the two of them - Ivan and Hilly, brother and sister, pilot and copilot. Until Hilly breaks out of their cozy cocoon to work on the local high school literary magazine as an extracurricular activity. Ivan feels betrayed: it's no longer just the two of them. And when Hilly goes into a depression after the suicide of a friend she has made at the magazine, she drifts even further away from Ivan. Hilly's parents insist that she see a psychotherapist. Ivan steps in to help manage Hilly's recovery by taking her to and from her appointments but compounds the betrayal by establishing his own relationship with the manipulative therapist.

Through the alternating voices of Hilly and Ivan, and drawing on the myths of Persephone and Narcissus, Kathe Koja explores the souls of two teenagers caught in a world where love takes you deeper than you ever dreamed you'd go.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Koja's (The Blue Mirror) novel explores the complex relationship between a teenage brother and sister, through their alternating first-person narratives. Hilly's friend recently committed suicide, and Hilly continues to be haunted by it, so her parents take her to a psychiatrist. Hilly's older brother, Ivan, believes that all Hilly really needs to do is to write about the event. As a stall tactic, he convinces their parents to switch Hilly to another psychiatrist with a long waiting list-who specializes in adolescent girls and coauthored a book called Persephone's Crisis: Adolescence and Separation. But Dr. Roland takes on Hilly right away; she (and, likely, readers) sees through the narcissistic doctor immediately, but Ivan does not. The man starts to play the two siblings against each other; again, Hilly is onto him, but Ivan begins to distrust his sister. The Persephone myth looms large, as Hilly flashes back to an experience in a cave (in a theme that is never fully flushed out), and hides under a tarp outside to write in a secret journal. Unfortunately, the nature of Hilly and Ivan's relationship remains muddied. Yet Koja crafts some striking moments in connecting the two siblings' chapters ("I don't mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy," Ivan admires from Roland's book; later, Hilly observes about her doctor, "Maybe telling the truth was like lying, for him"), and Hilly grows through the course of the book, emerging from her hell as the healthiest of everyone in her confused family. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
Sixteen-year-old Hilly and her older brother Ivan have always been extraordinarily close; both brilliant, they were home-schooled by their unconventional parents. Their relationship has always been "pilot to co-pilot," with Ivan as treacherous pilot and Hilly as naive acolyte. When Ivan turns 19 but refuses to go to college, instead spending his time playing endless games of Shards of Evil and telling himself he's a student of human nature, Hilly joins the staff of the literary magazine at the local high school. Ivan disapproves of her bid for freedom and is well…gratified when Hilly's friend at the school commits suicide and Hilly spirals into depression. Ivan, whose parents are clearly unhealthily awed by his intelligence and take-charge manner, decides to supervise Hilly's therapy with a local well-known psychiatrist. Hilly soon recognizes the psychiatrist for a manipulative phony but Ivan, flattered by the man's attentions, falls under his spell, to Hilly's cost. Told in the alternating voices of Ivan and Hilly, this novel is a character study and a look at one character's self-delusion. Interspersed with numerous references to the legend of Persephone, the theme seems to be that individuals must enter hell and then return, irrevocably changed, to find out who they really are. The language is poetic. The characters are interesting, except that Ivan seems, for much of the novel, pathologically self-centered—and yet, in the end, he, too, is in the process of redemption. Maybe that's a good message. Complexly themed and intricately structured, this short novel offers much for discussion and thought.
Children's Literature - Norah Piehl
Ivan and Hilly are about as close as two siblings can get. Home schooled by their parents, the two highly intelligent siblings form a bond of friendship and love. But when Hilly gets involved with a high school literary magazine and when her close friend on the magazine staff commits suicide, their relationship ("pilot to copilot") becomes increasingly strained. Hilly (short for Hillary) retreats to her journal writing ("My journal is me, really, ever since I could hold a pencil"), while Ivan, convinced he is a misunderstood genius ("that's the price I pay for being an original") takes solace in his own self-importance. Ivan pushes Hilly to take up therapy with the vaguely menacing Dr. Roland, whose true motivations are gradually revealed in the narrative. Told in alternating chapters by the two siblings, the novel grows in intensity as Ivan and Hilly pursue their individual, at times self-destructive, paths. The style, which can border on stream-of-consciousness, the ambiguous, unresolved ending, and the allusions to the Greek myths of Persephone and Narcissus make this a good choice for sophisticated teen readers.
Hilly and her brother, Ivan, have been home schooled their entire lives because of their extreme intellect and their parents' uncertainty in how to handle it and them. It has always just been the two of them, so when Hilly decides to join the literary magazine staff of a local public magnet school, Ivan is disgruntled. When one of the magazine staff members commits suicide, Hilly falls into a deep, dark depression, drifting even further away from her brother. In an attempt to help her, Hilly's parents send her to a psychotherapist. Ivan steps in to help manage Hilly's recovery, taking her to and from the appointments. Eventually Ivan compounds the rift between him and his sister by establishing his own relationship with a manipulative therapist, to the point of stealing Hilly's private journal for him. This stream-of-consciousness novel interweaves the intricate relationship between a brother and sister with the myths of Persephone and Narcissus. Hilly likens her depression to the dark hell Persephone experiences, and Ivan reads about Narcissus and how his self-absorption led to the alienation of all around him. The characters are well defined, and their relationship is quite involved. Those who enjoyed her previous books, Buddha Boy (Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003/VOYA April 2003) and The Blue Mirror (2004/VOYA April 2004), will like this one. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, 128p., $16. Ages 12 to 18.
—Susan Allen
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This novel mixes themes of betrayal, independence, and psychological manipulation with recognizable ancient Greek myths in a modern-day setting. A conniving psychologist pits two gifted, home-schooled siblings against one another, the narcissist Ivan and younger, more vulnerable Hilly (likened to Persephone). In alternating chapters, carefully paced to escalate the tension, each one tells about the assaults on their formerly close relationship. Hilly grows and finds her inner strength while Ivan simply refuses to change until his self-image cracks. Well executed in its setup, in its foreboding aura, and in the feel of each person's voice, the end result is unfortunate; the underlying character motivations are unconvincing. With the exception of Ivan's urgently earnest psychobabble ("sickness can-be utilized as a mode of defense, a deep moat of illness around the castle of personality"), neither one of the siblings appears to be either extraordinary or worth the machinations of the villain, whose "evil" actions are themselves unbaked. Still, for some sophisticated readers, the sense of paranoia and mythological references will resonate with deeply felt significance.-Rhona Campbell, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This distinctively ambiguous story features Hilly and Ivan, two intelligent, home-schooled siblings, and tells how their relationship is forever changed as Hilly copes with a tragedy shortly after making the decision to work on a literary magazine at a public school. Older brother Ivan has a curious and inappropriate amount of power over Hilly and their parents, leading readers to wonder if something sinister lies beneath the surface of the narrative. Hurt at Hilly's decision to have a life outside of their familial cocoon, Ivan takes control of her recovery, encouraging her to journal her feelings and see a therapist. But the therapist, too, embodies something disturbing, and eventually he seduces Ivan into betraying Hilly for his own gain. Ivan's and Hilly's voices alternate to tell the story, and seem to embody the myths of Persephone and Narcissus, which are heavily alluded to throughout. Like many Greek myths, Koja's narrative is laced with foreboding, but an uncertain ending leaves readers to decipher the story's messages about family, intense love and betrayal. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374326821
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/5/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 14 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

KATHE KOJA is the author of several notable books for young adults, including Buddha Boy and The Blue Mirror, both ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She lives near Detroit, Michigan.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 30, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky" for TeensReadToo.com

    GOING UNDER by Kathe Koja explores the psychological angles of a faltering brother/sister relationship. Hilly and Ivan have always been close. Raised by what Hilly calls "semi-useless" parents, both brother and sister would probably argue they raised themselves. <BR/><BR/>Hilly is sent to a therapist to help her work her way through the emotional aftermath of a friend's suicide. The first therapist is unsuccessful in reaching Hilly, so her older brother helps to find a new doctor. But does the new doctor have Hilly's best interests in mind--or his own? <BR/><BR/>Kathe Koja uses the myths of Peresephone and Narcissus to illustrate the siblings relationship. Hilly's brother Ivan tells his parents and his sister he is attempting to save Hilly from being dragged into the darkness. At the same time Ivan's own warped self-image causes him to become entangled with the therapist's scheme to use Hilly's journal writings as material for his own book. <BR/><BR/>Readers with a knowledge of the ancient myths will be treated to an interesting twist on the meanings of the old tales. Koja's book would work well and provide fuel for discussion in a high school lit class focusing on different interpretations of these classical stories.

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    Posted January 18, 2009

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