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The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  3,495 Ratings  ·  812 Reviews
Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her
Hardcover, 326 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by St. Martin's Press
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Kit I have an autistic child. But I don't think this book was about belittling those with disabilities. I was more focused on Ivan, and how his skewed…moreI have an autistic child. But I don't think this book was about belittling those with disabilities. I was more focused on Ivan, and how his skewed view of life due to his disabilities was his greatest disability. He was thrown away like trash by his mother, and then forced to live in a hospital without any meaningful experience of love or compassion. I think how he treated others (whether physically or cognitively disabled or "normal") was not informed by love and compassion by others in his past. Instead, he only knew torment, and thus, his own torments of others were sad, cruel and misguided, but the best connections he could form with those around him given his past experiences. I think the story is really about how he discovered love as a different type of human connection when Polina arrives.

I will say it did hurt to have all the children in this book described in this manner. I am hurt anytime I read such descriptions, but only because I have heard them spoken so many times about my child. I really don't think this is the focus of the book though. I think it really is about an understandably flawed and horrible human being, awakened to love and kinship with Polina, which gives us all hope of inner change and redemption. I find him an incredibly sympathetic hero. He was never perfect, but he opened himself up to the human experience under impossible circumstances. It's something we all want for our children, and we all want desperately for our disabled children. I cried at the end, and then smiled and became hopeful for Ivan. For this reason, I love this book. (less)
Scott Stambach Hmmm. I think it depends. It won the Alex award which means that it is a very good book for both young adult and adult audiences. But it also can be…moreHmmm. I think it depends. It won the Alex award which means that it is a very good book for both young adult and adult audiences. But it also can be intense in parts. I would say ages 15/16 and up...(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Jul 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: litmus-test
How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.
- from Flowers for Algernon, 1966

I call bullsh#t. This book is nothing more than a freak show. But I am editing this review again in order to be more cogent and to warn the parents of children with special needs that this book may be upsetting. If you do not love somebody with a serious
Emily May
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Update: The author of this book has repeatedly contacted a GR member, asking her to change a negative review, which he called "mean-spirited". On the exact same day that he sent his last message, this profile appeared on Goodreads. Her location is San Diego like the author, and she immediately added the author, before beginning to attack the aforementioned reviewer. She even accused the reviewer of wearing "the badge of your autistic son on your shirt like a good martyr". I don't know about you, ...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This book, for me, pushed all the right buttons. I laughed, I cried, I sighed, I grimaced, I was filled with sadness and filled with wonder. What a poignant story, what a great character was Ivan. Born without legs, missing one arm, Ivan is at a severe disadvantage, he has lived as a full time resident at the Mazyr Hospital for gravely ill children in Belarus for his entire seventeen years. A victim of Chernobyl, he does not know who his mother is nor his fath
Angela M
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing

In Belarus in 1988 a baby is born , suffering severe birth defects from the fallout of Chernobyl, probably one of many babies like this . We first meet Ivan when he's 17 and has lived his entire life at the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children . He has never known his mother or father and isn't even sure of his birthday. While physically deformed and disabled, he is intelligent, has a sharp wit and is woefully lonely without any meaningful human interaction except for Nurse Natalya, whose big
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I feel like I've been sandblasted. This was a fantastic and devastatingly weird read at the same time. I can honestly say, I've never read anything like this. How did this happen? I despise YA (for those who know me) but was enraptured by this story; this brilliant and endearing character.

Ivan Isanko, 17 year's old, lives in a children's hospital due to the physical deformity he was born with because of Chernobyl. Yet, even with the physical challenges, he possesses an intelligence that is clev
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
The narration is fresh. Ivan's voice is rare.
The reader will notice 'something different' right away......very unique style of storytelling.

As far as Ivan himself....he is 17 years old and has spent his entire life growing up in a
children's hospital in Russia. He was born with severe physical abnormalities.
His only real comfort for the longest time is books. ( and a favorite elderly nurse who brings him books). His body is deformed - but his mind is sharp.
He basically can't stand most peopl
Jun 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isianko is original, clever, heartbreaking and quite funny -- pretty good ingredients for a novel. It's written in the form of a first person narrative, from the point of view of severely disabled 17 year old Ivan. Ivan has lived in a children's hospital in Belarus his whole life. His body is seriously deformed but his mind is whip smart. He purportedly recounts the last few days of another resident's life -- Polina -- but really he tells his own sad life story, depict ...more
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ivan narrates his life while living in a home for gravely ill children filled with children born with all kinds of conditions due to the Chernobyl incident.
In this book you will find love, hope, humanity.. mostly you will take away the love..
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

----Dr. Seuss

Scott Stambach, an American author, pens his debut young adult novel, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko that is centered around a teenage born physically deformed boy living in a church-funded hospital in Belarus along side with other sick and handicapped children. The author weaves a sweet love story of this boy who is frustrated with the people and the limited world around h
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adults, YA, people who liked M*A*S*H
The Foreword from the “editor” and the Epilogue (at the end, of course) refer to Ivan’s real story and the dates that this took place, so it must be real, mustn’t it?

Just to be sure, when I finished this remarkable book, I had to go back and read the disclaimer again. You know, the one we skim over at the beginning of a novel: “This is a work of fiction . . . “

But it’s a work of fiction the same as M*A*S*H is fiction. Raw, hilarious, sad, fist-shakingly frustrating! The same kind of far-fetche
Aug 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2016
“There are many themes in Ivan’s story as there are pages. It is at once a love story, a revelation of the dark legacy of the Soviet experiment, a conversation on medical ethics, a reproach of religious hypocrisy, and an admonition against choosing fear over purpose. But, ultimately, it is simply the story of a single human life, within which so much can be held. We hope the reader can pause to appreciate that fact.” —James C. Begley, 2014

Begley finds the remnants of Ivan’s journal in what remai
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio
Very highly-rated on GR, this book didn't really work for me. I was unable to make the jump and go along for the ride with the often mean-spirited, yet unbelievably intelligent and snarky protagonist. Much of the content felt intentionally manipulative to me therefore I was unable to connect to the characters. I wanted to, believe me.

I listened to the audio and many of the Russian words were mispronounced...most notably some very famous author's names. Though it didn't impact the story, it seem
Larry H
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
"...from what little I know of the outside world, I am fairly certain that my comrades and I live in hell. For most of us, the hell is in our bodies; for others, the hell is in our heads. And there is no mistaking that, for each of us, hell is in the empty, clinical, perfectly adequate, smudgy, off-white brick walls that hold us in here. In spite of my intelligence, I'm forced to accept that I'm one of the lucky ones."

Ivan Isaenko has lived at the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belar
If I could give this book a 10* rating I would!

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks to my many Goodreads friends’ reviews of this book I was looking forward to this read. What I didn’t expect was the incredible story, the emotion, the heartbreak, the laughter and the very unique style of writing in this debut novel from Scott Stambach.

We are introduced to Ivan as he is 17 and writing his journal while living in The Mazyr Hospit
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

3.5 Stars

“The world needs happy endings, no matter how unethical.” – Vladimir Navokov

The blurb states . . . .

“The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”

My response to that?

Maybe more like The Fault In Our Stars meets Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, ya know if the children were terminally ill rather than strangely gifted and you only really got to know two of them in depth.

I’m going to let the boo
Suzanne Leopold
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thought about this book for a few days before writing this review. This novel will not be for everyone and aspects of it are not pleasant to read. This story tugged at my heart and made me think about how important it is to have parents in your life. Everyone deserves to feel loved regardless of how they look.

Ivan is a severely disfigured young adult due to radiation exposure from Chernobyl. He has never met his parents or any of his family. The Mazyr Hospital has been Ivan’s home for his enti
***this book was released today--do yourself a favor and get it NOW!!!

Wow. What a book. Actually, I wouldn't call The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko just a book, it's more on the level of well crafted literature. You don't just read it, you savor the words and get lost in the storytelling. And, what more can you really ask for in a book?

The book is the story of Ivan, who is a resident in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill children in the former Soviet Union. Ivan, age 17, was born with a connec
Aug 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heart wrenchingly honest glimpse into the life of a boy. A boy who's physical disabilities have trapped him in a life he can't escape... until a girl opens his eyes and heart to love. I thought that the journal format worked so well in capturing the essence of Ivan and the battles he faced. Through these struggles he comes to understand how to care, to love and, most of all, to be 'seen'. 4 stars.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, belarus
4.5 Stars

Ivan has spent all of his 17 years in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. Born with severe physical deformities, he has a clever wit and a sharp mind. He’s inquisitive and very well read. He has one favorite nurse, Natalya, and little use for anyone else.

Occasionally he pretends to be in a coma, allowing drool to hang from his mouth for the chance to stare, imagining himself to be unobserved. This amuses him. The nurses chatter, spill secrets, some about the other p
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I laughed, I cried, I got pissed, I cried some more, I laughed some more and mostly I just wanted to give Ivan a hug.

Ivan was born in 1987 to unknown parentage and has lived his whole life in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children. From the result of nuclear fallout Ivan only has the equivalent of half a body. What he lacks in body parts he makes up for with his heart and his brain. He is super smart.

Polina enters the Hospital because she is dying of leukemia. With the help o
Jul 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Life is unbearable, but it has the benefit of being real."

This book. Wow. It made me cry.

Ivan is a highly intelligent young man trapped in a severely disabled body , the result of radiation from Chernobyl.

The author presents a fully realised character in Ivan:
" (God) put such a big life into such a small, broken box."

He is also trapped in a home for gravely ill children where he has lived his whole life. His inner world is very different to his real one and the games he creates, the way he ma
Scott Stambach has written an incredibly moving story, laced with dark humor. Ivan Isaenko is a seventeen-year-old boy who has lived his whole life in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. About 60% of the nuclear fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986 landed in Belarus, and Ivan was born with significant physical disabilities. But he is mentally sharp, loves to read, has a wicked sense of humor, and a fascination with sexuality. Ivan had spent his whol ...more
I received this via Goodreads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.

did enjoy at the time but after a certain something, taking down my review.

decide for yourself if you want to read it.
Aug 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Ivan Isaenko is in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. It's the only place he's ever been in the world, as he is a deformed shell left for dead at the home. No family, no friends, and just the other crew of patients and nurses that feed his knowledge for the outside world. Ivan's world runs like clockwork until Polina enters. Ivan cannot quickly place her into his categories for the other patients and they both become interested in the other. Polina has leukemia and has lost ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wow! Wow! Wow! I keep rereading the forward in an effort to understand if this is a true story and it appears that it is. I'm totally shaken and in tears as I finish reading the last pages.

Here is a story of a 17 year old young man, Ivan, severely handicapped, but intelligent and since birth confined to the Russian Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children. Every day is the same and boring. Ivan has no family and no friends. Death is ever present. Kindness is almost non-existent with one exceptio
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Life is unbearable, but it has the benefit of being real."

The publisher says The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is "The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but I'd like to challenge that comparison with my own - "Geek Love meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

The central character of Ivan lives at the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children, where children suffering from various radiation ailments live out their (often short) lives. He is deformed, mi
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, disability, debut
Ivan Isaenko was born in 1987 in Belarus, the year following the Chernobyl disaster. He was horribly deformed, with no legs, only one arm with two fingers and a disfigured face. His mother left him at the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children 17 years ago and he has no idea who his parents or family at. He has no friends at the hospital as most of the children are either there for short term stays recuperating from surgery or chemotherapy or are like Ivan, long term inmates, with disabilities ...more
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I don't tend to use the word in book reviews, because I think it's kind of cliche. But, sometimes, a book is just... wow... and there's no better way to describe it.

Ivan has lived his entire seventeen years inside the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. He was born with a number of physical deformities, including missing 3 of his limbs, probably due to radiation exposure after the Chernobyl meltdown. Abandoned by his parents and with little hope for a normal life, Ivan gets
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The narrator is a 17 year old orphan; born with severe birth defects, he has spent his entire life in a Belarusian children’s hospital. All the other patients are either very young or cognitively impaired. With busy nurses as his only companions, he has grown into an emotionally isolated adolescent who chooses to respond to the world as an “asshole”. His world, his sense of self, his desire for relationship changes when a recently orphaned girl dying of leukemia arrives at his ward. I could comp ...more
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
She said that my self-awareness makes life worth living. I said that my self-awareness makes life lonely.

It's incredible that someone without any deformities could write such a vivid character. Ivan is strong, inventive, intelligent, sarcastic and in touch with his emotions - he also never gives up. I almost never felt sad for him, he took the cards he was dealt with in life and played them to the best of his abilities. He does not want our pity, but only to be seen as a full human being, with h
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Scott Stambach lives in San Diego where he teaches physics and astronomy at Grossmont and Mesa colleges. He also collaborates with Science for Monks, a group of educators and monastics working to establish science programs in Tibetan Monasteries throughout India. He has written about his experiences working with monks of Sera Jey monastery and has published short fiction in several literary journa ...more
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“Two decades of observing human nature have revealed a few notable differences between the way men and women approach conflict: men will knock each other out and then hug it out, while women tend to leave deep, unresolved scars on the souls of their victims.” 7 likes
“Don't die before you're dead. And if you do, let it be the good kind...when the only part of you that dies is who you were supposed to be.” 7 likes
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