Ivy is an orphan, living in 19th century London slums under the guardianship of her swindling cousins. After a traumatic infancy away from her kin (she ran away at five years old, after being told to challenge her conscience by eating meat), she goes to board with "Carrotty Kate," a skinner, and her rogues, to aid her in her labours in taking the expensive clothing off of wealthy children. Ivy escapes back home at 15, only to catch the eye of a Pre-Raphaelite painter. When he undertakes her as his muse, expectations to financially prosper her defrauding cousins are extensive. But, all the while, the painter's envious mother has schemes to ambush her son's red-haired model, using Ivy's addiction to laudanum to destroy her life.
But Ivy's past slowly begins to catch up with her. Being a vegetarian in the 1800s was not common, and Ivy must choose to either stay at her haven (a dog shelter where she voluntarily, and behind her cousin's back, helps at), or continue working for the love-sick painter, for whom she holds much contempt.
Poor. The skinner is later found to be a cross-dresser, with no explanation as to why. One of her cousins is exhibited as a crook, pick-pocketing from a young age, and one of her female cousins is seen to be pregnant out of wedlock. Carrotty Kate robs children of their riches, and a handful of characters are profane convicts.
The rogues say grace before a meal, and ask God to forgive them of their misdeeds.
Ivy is bitten by a wolf when going to stroke it. Ivy's cousin, Jared, turbulently pins the painter against a wall. When Ivy is five, a charity monger lifts her by the handle of her umbrella and drops her in a puddle.
There is a violent incident involving Carrotty Kate and a policeman, in which there is a mention of blood running down a nanny's front; but it isn't graphic, and you do not actually witness the incident. The author is very vague in this chapter.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The foundation of the book is on Ivy's extensive addiction to laudanum, a spirit of opium that was commonly administered in that period, often by women trying to calm their nerves or resume sleep. References are made to a poppy in a Pre-Raphaelite painting that symbolized such a drug - but, the closure of the book is of Ivy's renouncing her addiction. When the painter's mother locks her in a room with enough of the stuff to kill her, Ivy gathers strength and pours it away, thus contending with her addiction and restoring a conventional life.
One of her male cousins, Orlando, a poet, gets drunk at the prompt of the painter's mother.
There are references of one of Ivy's cousins sleeping with a man. Oscar, the painter, proposes to Ivy, and one of her male cousins makes obscene jests as to what the painter is "really after" (these remarks are false, however).
Ivy poses as Eve in scant clothing, garbed in a table cloth, but only her shoulders and arms are exposed.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
I cannot recall any severe cursing; however, the character Jared calls his sisters "trollops," a term for a promiscuous woman.
In conclusion, this book is highly readable, and the characters, even the crooks, are somehow likable. Emotive prosperity triumphs over strife - Ivy disregards her slum life to board at the dog shelter with a dear friend, Rosa, and her father, where she may maintain her vegetarian diet without adversaries. She quells her drug consumption with sheer will power.
But the morality of the novel is, in general, pitiful for teenage fiction. I would recommend reading the English edition before the American, to expose the original content.