Originally published August 2015
Sometimes, it IS those book jacket blurbs that get my attention.
In the case of The Country of Ice Cream Star, it was Kate Atkinson’s “Breathtakingly ambitious” thumbs up that caught my eye. If this is coming from the lips of the person that wrote Life After Life, for which calling that book ambitious would be an understatement, then Sandra Newman’s epic novel must be amazing.
I’ll say this—while I may not count this particular book among my favorites, I would say it is definitely one of the best books of the year. Readers beware: This is not an easy read. I mean that. Written in a narrative that can only be described as that of the young child in “Room” dropped in the middle of “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” it take a reader’s full attention to try to break down the meaning of words and the sentence structure with which they are employed.
So the story goes, throughout the entire novel, during which our young Ice Cream Star, an integral part of the Sengles clan, becomes the conduit between the Lowells, Christings, Marianos and Armies, each separate groups of people living in the post-plague northeastern United States. Their days and nights are filled with a single goal—survival in a world where there’s little to live for, where a disease still continues to kill once a person reaches 19 or 20 years old.
Atkinson was right—it is an ambitious achievement for an author to describe characters and locales and carry on a plot line while never breaking the overall voice and tone—in this case, Ice Cream Star’s quest to discover the medication that may save her older brother’s life and offer the promise of a future to the children she loves and cares for.
The book, at least for me, also served as a metaphor on religion and and peace in a place where despite conflicting ideals, people are forced to work together to survive. It isn’t pretty, this book. War is war, death is death, and no one is above enduring severe emotional pain.
It’s also about recognizing that it is possible a person to be good at his or her core, while still committing heinous acts. At least in fiction, right?