This is a book that’s very difficult to succinctly summarise, not just because of the length, but also because there are so many plot details. So, I’m not even going to try, except for the first chapter or two: set in the future, a disease called ‘posies’ has wiped out most of civilisation, and the disease that remains takes hold in people’s teens and usually kills them by the time they are 20. This is a world run by teenagers. Ice Cream Star and her older brother Driver live in a tribe of ‘Sengles’ who hunt and forage, are on friendly terms with nearby tribes of religious ‘Christings’ and manufacturing ‘Lowells’, and have an uneasy truce with the ‘Armies’ tribe. When Driver beings to show signs of posies, Ice Cream is determined to find a cure to save him, even if it means taking her Sengles to war.
And that really is just the first couple of chapters, with some key bits left out that I think are better to discover on your own. You are dropped into Ice Cream’s world with little backstory but I promise it makes sense, and completely works.
It’s definitely not a YA book, but there are a number of YA tropes like a post-apocalyptic future, a sort-of love triangle, and a first-person questing narrator. Because of these tropes, the overarching plot feels very familiar, but there’s a richness to this book which more than makes up for it. And there is a level of complexity to the plot – it’s not just one group versus another, or simple individual allegiances. It’s a book about war, violence, politics, religion, race, and language, that deals with these huge themes complexly, but not heavy-handedly, with characters that act like people and develop.
I love the language, and it’s linguistically so interesting. It’s written in a version of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) which is slightly different from current usage as the story is set a number of years in the future. AAVE is totally appropriate for Ice Cream’s world because the vast majority of the characters are black as posies has seemingly killed most white people outright (but their race is not their defining trait and race is a relatively minor theme – they are actual human characters first, whoop!). The dialect is very easy to get into and I think you wouldn’t have any difficulty reading this even if you are unfamiliar with AAVE or struggle with reading dialect. The syntax and vocabulary develop subtly from beginning to end as Ice Cream meets others and learns bits of new languages. Within this there are some beautiful phrases like:
“we slept in one hammock, tangle-fashion, loose as cats”
“then I remember ice cream been a food I never taste. I wonder what my mama dream to name me for this food, as if she name me Something Lost”
“Yo, I feel this been the truth of all our time together. We always been a grief that huddle close against a vicious light.”
It was a little long for me and I think it could have been cut back further in places, but I do tend to prefer shorter books. The ending is left open in a way which suggests there’s a sequel coming, which I will definitely pick up if it’s a little shorter than this one, but probably will even if it’s not because I like this book more and more the longer I let it simmer.