Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star (Chatto & Windus, 2014; HarperCollins, 2015) has been on my TBR for years, and I finally picked it up.  This post-apocalyptic novel is about a destroyed America, set 80 some years after a “killing fever” called WAKS decimated the country.  The white people died or fled to Europe, where WAKS was being managed and the Russians were largely in control.  In America, pockets of communities developed, and tribes formed.

Those left in the “Nighted States” do not survive past their early twenties, and the country is populated with children.  The novel is “Children of the Corn” meets “The Walking Dead” meets Dread Nation.  Only better.

Our hero is Ice Cream Star, a fifteen-year-old Sengle.  She describes her people as follows: “We flee like a dragonfly over water, we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.”

Other tribes include the Christings, though only Tophet and his wives remain in Massa woods, the Lowells, led by El Mayor, and the Nat Mass Armies, with their NewKing, Mamadou.  Outside of Massa woods are other groups, including the Catolicos and the Marias, and the armies at Quantico.  There are also Roos (or Russian soldiers), who are stealing children.

The novel opens with Ice Cream Star and some other Sengles raiding an evacuation house for supplies.  In the house, they find Pasha – a Russian solider.  Ice Cream takes him as a prisoner and eventually begins to communicate with him.  She soon learns that the Russians have a cure for WAKS, or what the Sengles call “posies.” Ice Cream’s older brother, Driver, is sick with the posies, and she becomes determined to get the cure for him.

What follows is an unpredictable, bloody political ride.  There’s a forbidden love with Mamadou, a love of necessity with El Mayor, and a very deep bond with Pasha Roo. None of the three men approve of the other, but Ice Cream will do what is necessary to protect her people.  Ice Cream is eventually kidnapped by the Catolicos and placed in a ruling position as the new Maria with Pasha being the white Jesus that she’s supposed to sacrifice.  It’s entirely political and ripe for a rebellion as the ruling class among the Catolicos are the “Spaniels” who speak “Panish” and the English are the workers.  As Ice Cream is English-speaking, she becomes the Maria of the common man.  All the while, she’s playing the long game to get to Quantico and parlay with the Russians for the cure to save Driver.

It’s a highly inventive novel that immerses the reader in a world with a made-up patois that combines English, Spanish and French.  This evolution of language is entirely realistic in this setting with no adults.  The commitment to the language for the duration of nearly 600 pages makes it a trying read, but such a rewarding one.  I do want to note that the author is white, and the novel is from the POV of a young, Black girl.  While I did not find it offensive or disrespectful, I would recommend reading reviews by BIPOC reviewers that may address this.

It’s a long, hard novel, but it is raw and brilliant.  You’ll fall in love with Ice Cream Star.

Read this book.

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