book review: The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman

[I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher (Chatto and Windus/Random House Canada) via NetGalley. A version of this review is also on Goodreads and has been submitted to NetGalley.]

Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star is a YA novel about a young woman named Ice Cream Fifteen Star who lives in a post-plague event United States. For generations now, a contagious disease has killed everyone over a certain age; North American society bears no resemblance to its former self. The novel recounts the protagonist and her tribe’s struggle for survival in a brutal world.

The book is fast paced and tense, and one of its best features is the use of first-person narrative rather than clumsy exposition in world-building. The beginning of the novel plunges us into the middle of the action, but as we accompany Ice Cream in her day to day existence, the narrative slowly reveals small details that eventually form a clearer picture of her society.

And now the one downside: although I know it can be done effectively (e.g. Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, part of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas), I am not a big fan of narratives told completely in dialect. I admire the way Newman commits wholeheartedly to her characters’ invented patois, but if not done skilfully, this style can be precious and annoying. It’s a fine line, and unfortunately I think this novel treads it too closely.

In terms of using the novel for a literature course, I’ve decided while I would not use it as an assigned text, I might recommend it to individual students whom I know are a) interested in dystopian fiction and b) not easily frustrated or put off by the use of dialect for several hundred pages.

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