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The Country of Ice Cream Star

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In the aftermath of a devastating plague, a fearless young heroine embarks on a dangerous and surprising journey to save her world in this brilliantly inventive thriller

In the ruins of a future America, fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star and her nomadic tribe live off the detritus of a crumbled civilization. Theirs is a world of children; before reaching the age of twenty, they all die of a strange disease they call Posies--a plague that has killed for generations. There is no medicine, no treatment; only the mysterious rumor of a cure.

When her brother begins showing signs of the disease, Ice Cream Star sets off on a bold journey to find this cure. Led by a stranger, a captured prisoner named Pasha who becomes her devoted protector and friend, Ice Cream Star plunges into the unknown, risking her freedom and ultimately her life. Traveling hundreds of miles across treacherous, unfamiliar territory, she will experience love, heartbreak, cruelty, terror, and betrayal, fighting to protect the only world she has ever known.

A postapocalyptic literary epic as imaginative as The Passage and as linguistically ambitious as Cloud Atlas, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a breathtaking work from a writer of rare and unconventional talent.

592 pages, Hardcover

First published November 10, 2014

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Sandra Newman

22 books361 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 672 reviews
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,843 followers
Shelved as 'i-started-something-i-couldn-t-fini'
February 13, 2015
I hate giving up on books.

I made it through the first part of the book, a little over 200 pages and I’m going to call it quits.

The linguistic world building is quite impressive here. The book is written in an invented dialect that is very involved. I imagine it was difficult to write and it shows a lot of talent.

Younger Greg would have stuck with this, and probably been more impressed by the technical powers on display. Middle-aged Greg couldn’t stop thinking if his limited time remaining, the ever-growing to-do list and piles of books in his apartment could justify spending more time with this book. The older Greg isn’t as smart as the younger one, and he feels left cold with technical displays of literary craftsmanship without some kind of emotional or entertainment being involved. I’m not the same person who could read some of the big difficult books and just get a thrill out of how much work would need to go into unpacking them.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic America where disease has seemed to destroy most of the population. The average lifespan now is about twenty years and it seems like all the white people have pretty much died off or left for a better place (like maybe Europe). What’s left are some small groups of kids with funny names and their own social hierarchy.

I couldn’t get emotionally into the book. I think the language was a barrier that I could figure out what was going on but it kept getting engrossed in the story at a distance. I also wasn’t sure if this was breaking any new ground in the well-beaten trails of this genre (besides the language aspect). It was shaping up to be a hero quest type story, but I wasn’t feeling like following this quest was worth another week or so of my life. I felt like it was someone taking the basic post-apocalyptic themes and just giving it a Clockwork Orange make-over, language wise—not violence and depravity wise.

I feel kind of bad for giving up on this. I hope that other people who read it can find more enjoyment than I did.
Profile Image for Reka Beezy.
803 reviews31 followers
February 18, 2017
Unlike most people who gave his book a low rating, I did not stop reading because I found the dialect to be confusing. I just found it to be racist as all hell, and I knew that it would only continue to get worse should I proceed. I knew what was up when the "roo" came on the scene. The main characters were black, were speaking some broken form of English (for why though? especially since they were in damn Massachusetts and not the backwoods of Louisiana!), most of the white people had disappeared/died or were snatching lil black kids, and then all a sudden there's this white man that the MC is going to be affectionate towards??? Nope. I refuse to acknowledge that White Savior BS, in fiction or in real life. Them jokers should've killed his ass on sight. End of story. But this is a book about black folk written by a white woman so I expect nothing profound, enlightening, or remotely good will happen.
Profile Image for Megz.
201 reviews45 followers
June 19, 2014
I have been trying to review this book and I am struggling. So I’m going to say first-off: I LOVED IT. Maybe I need to find a better word than “love”. Because it’s not pretty. There’s very little “pretty” here.

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman is one of those books that dumps you in a world completely foreign to your own, and leaves you to figure it out as the story progresses. That is not to say there isn’t world-building (there is!), it just doesn’t make anything obvious.

I have never made quite so many annotations on my e-reader.

I don’t want to give anything away – even some smaller details take some reading to figure out, and I think that’s awesome.

One thing that takes a while to get used to is the language. Newman has essentially created a new dialect for her characters – I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a new language, but it is kind of a Pidgin English, although that’s not all too fair because it is not at all simplified. It reminds me a little of Valleysmen in Cloud Atlas. Eventually I really started enjoying this dialect, because it’s kind of similar to the way that I think, sometimes. Newman also REALLY displays her prowess when she brings other dialects into her story with other communities.

This book is LONG… I mean, not 1Q84 long, but 640 pages long. And it’s an epic, of war and disease and kinship. It took me a long time to finish it: it’s not the kind of book that should be rushed. It is also not at all predictable (at least, it wasn’t to me), which makes it an even wilder ride.

I would have love to read this in a class because there are a few parallels to modern world that could be discussed, especially in terms of religion, politics and war (although you could argue they are all the same). In many ways I was reminded of Lord of the Flies and The Handmaid’s Tale. Many parts of the story were gut-churning and decidedly not-pretty. Sometimes I wondered about the lack of moral fibre in these kids, and other times I marvelled at the structures they managed to build into their societies.

“You have to understand, it’s how we are here. It’s like we’re all asleep. We grow up, we fall asleep, and then the horrors that scared us before – we’re doing them. We’re the monsters in the nightmare.”

As for the main character, Ice Cream Star: I really enjoyed reading her – which is not to say I always liked her. Sometimes she annoyed the crap out of me. Sometimes I just wanted to hug her. Sometimes I felt like she didn’t really have full agency. But as a character she was wonderful. Her self-awareness and maturity change noticeably. It’s like you could see her prefrontal cortex developing.

"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."

In terms of story-development, this is probably one of the most unique books I’ve read. The idea of a plague killing everyone at a certain age is not new, but the way in which Newman further develops that idea certainly is. What happens when a cure is not found? What happens when the plague becomes the norm? What happens when children become responsible for humanity’s continued existence?

The Country of Ice Cream Star happens. I couldn’t recommend this book more avidly. (Somebody please read it soon so that I can have long discussions about it without spoiling the story!)

I received an eARC of this book via the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,452 reviews55.8k followers
November 20, 2015
Read 2/03/15 - 2/12/15
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of post-pandy fiction. This one's unlike any you've read before.
Pages: 592
Publisher: Ecco Books
Releases: March 2015

It's a great time to be a reader if you're into post-pandemic dystopian literature, isn't it? Lately, it seems as though every author out there's devising new ways to bring about the end of the world. And what I find most interesting about this sub-genre -the post-pandy genre- is the fact that these stories aren't actually concerned with the trigger, the thing that brought about the near-end of humanity. Because the trigger is simply a catalyst. The meat of these stories is in the aftermath.

Take Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. She brought about the near-end of the world with a nasty, aggressive Super-Flu. Sure, she has to lay down some groundwork for it, but the bulk of her book focuses on what, and who, remains foremost in the survivors' minds. What are the survivors latching onto? What is keeping them human? What connects them to others? In her case, it's art and theater and culture.

Or we can look at Carola Dibbell's The Only Ones. In a near future, a series of back-to-back viruses and infections plague the country and wipe most humans out. People are still getting sick and dying and this novel's concerned with just one thing... keeping our species from going extinct. So Carola's focus turns towards genetics and cloning and playing god by manufacturing hope for humanity in a petri dish.

True to the post-pandy formula, Sandra Newman infects her world with a strange virus that initially rocked the United States ages ago and which now lingers dormant inside every child, killing them slowly and painfully before they reach the age of twenty. Hers is a world containing only children. Hers is the country of Ice Cream Star and let me tell you.. what a country it is!

The novel is told from the point of view of Ice Cream Star, our fifteen year old protagonist, and is written entirely in a made-up dialect, with no glossary of terms in sight (more on that later). She and her brother Driver are part of the upper echelon of a small nomadic tribe of children who make their home in the woods of Massa(chusetts). Ice Cream's group refer to themselves as "tarry night sorts" (dark skinned) and operate under a hierarchy that is greatly influenced by the disease they call posies.

It is through Ice Cream's narration that we discover the "Nighted" States was once, way before her time, evacuated under the threat of this disease. If her bunch be "tarry night sorts", then where did all of the white people go? She ponders on Europe - a name that appears in the evac notices that still linger here and there in the abandoned homes they raid - as a place more likened to hell and myth than an actual, honest-to-god country people fled to, because of the occasional sleepers they come into contact with - the dead, skeletal bodies of those who died from the initial outbreak.

Their laws and rules are also mostly guided by superstition and fables.

There are other neighboring "tribes", that function under their own set of laws and rules, with whom Ice Cream and her group interact - the Christings, who are godly church-going people; The Lowells, who live in an abandoned mill and act as laborers and merchants; and The Nat Mass Armies, a military-like group of males. And when Ice Cream and her crew unexpectedly stumble across a grown white man hiding out in a sleeper's house during a routine raid, everything they thought they knew about life and the disease that claims them all at such a young age is about to change.

This 'roo' convinces Ice Cream Star that his people have a cure for their posies, and as her brother begins to show signs of the disease, she becomes determined to get her hands on it. What follows is a story of hardship, heartbreak, betrayal, and redemption.

The Country of Ice Cream Star immediately brings to mind Lord of the Flies. In this brave new world of parentless children, and of children having children, new societal norms and agreements have replaced the ones we typically function under. For example, women (or, more correctly, girls) can and do fight in wars but mostly lack social status. The Nat Mass Armies toss their unwanted female-born children to the Christings, kidnap others to keep as sex slaves, and are allowed to "choose" one against their will to become the Queen of the newest Nat Mass Army king. Inter-group pairings were looked upon as necessary strategic moves. Girls, once they hit their teenage years, were strongly urged to reproduce, in order to keep their tribe's numbers up. The Christings men, though claiming to follow the word of God, kept multiple wives. And one particular 'Panish' group with strange Catholic obsessions hand-select a man and woman, usually against their will, to become their Maria and Jesus, while they assigned "apostles" to manage and maintain their city laws.

This book also has strong similarities to Clockwork Orange. In the Country of Ice Cream Star, they all speak in a mish-moshed version of English, where most words lose their first letters (tober, vember, cember for the months of the year; lastic, lectric, larm, magine all have their opening vowels dropped) and others are just plain ole made-up.

Try this on for size:

"Ya, this been feary day, because we find a sleeper house. In houses with these dead we take no loot. It be unlucky wealth. Nor is good taboo to leave the house. Must rid it with clean fire."

Words like "vally", "bone", "bell", and "gratty" are defined only by their intended use within a sentence. And most of the time, you need to see it appear three or four times before you truly grasp its meaning. So, how does one keep track of all of this incredibly ambitious and strangely beautiful dialect? Well, by taking notes!

Honestly, I don't know how I would have made it past the first 50 pages without my notes. Being locked inside a single character's head for ~600 pages is one thing. Being locked inside Ice Cream Star's head, with this trimmed down but highly complicated dialect, was an entirely different animal!

Difficulties with decoding the dialect aside, by the time I read the first paragraph I knew I was in this for the long haul, For all of her flaws and naivety, I found Ice Cream to be incredibly charismatic. I was entirely too curious to follow her around to even consider putting the book down. You wanted to be there as she comforted her dying brother, as she rallied her tribe to stand alongside the roo to fight for the cure, and as she fought, struggled, and escaped whatever perils came their way.

Sandra Newman has crafted a fascinating and frightful alternate future, one that pulls you straight down into its very heart, though it's the unique language of Ice Cream Star that holds you there tightly. It's heady and ballsy and manages to break every dystopian barrier there is with a sophisticated ease.
Author 1 book1 follower
August 19, 2014
This book be wolfen. Kept me up late into the night wondering just how or even IF Ice Cream Star was going to succeed in her quest to save her Sengle people. Also, Pasha Roo! Was I the only one a little in love with him? This story is fantastic - so many twists and turns. The author's commentary on the world's religions as seen through Ice Cream's eyes 100 years in the future makes for terrifying reading. Simply put, this book is beautiful. Lyrical while being cut-throat at the same time. Stunning.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,132 reviews309 followers
June 5, 2021
This was such an interesting book for me. When I first started it, honestly, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to read it the way it was written using the language as spoken by Ice Cream Star and her people. In fact, it ended up giving the book a wonderful texture that I think would have been difficult to achieve otherwise.

The story was interesting and moved in directions I didn't always expect. There was a real emotional depth to the characters and again, they developed in ways that I did not necessarily foresee at the outset. All in all, I ended up enjoying the book very much. My only real complaint would be with the ending, which really felt rather abrupt and unsatisfying after everything leading up to it.

This is definitely not a book for everyone, but I thought it was a sharp, original and emotional piece of writing.
Profile Image for Nannah.
470 reviews17 followers
July 16, 2016
I looked through the reviews to try to find a black woman's (or any black person's) opinion of this book. I can't believe there are only white women reading & reviewing this (not that I'm helping by adding to them)? It would have been really, really nice to have a diverse opinion and perspective - especially when most of the characters here aren't white.

Book content warnings:
- rape
- sexual harassment
- pedophilia
- slavery
- homophobia

The Country of Ice Cream Star is dystopian-like book about basically two groups of people, and two characters. The groups: the natives of the post-pandemic United States and the Russians. The characters: Ice Cream Star (our protagonist) and Pasha, a Russian deserter.

Ice Cream (a black girl, 15yo) lives in a world in which all white people have been killed by an illness called WAKS, or posies as she calls it. People of color aren't totally immune, either, as they die between the ages of seventeen through twenty. Ice Cream's brother is eighteen, and he's contracted posies. Heartbroken, Ice Cream will do anything to get a cure, even if it means joining a war against the "roos" (the white people - Russians), and teaming up with Pasha.

According to the book's acknowledgments, the 580-page book used to be 900 pages long in the first draft. This . . . makes a lot of sense, because the plot becomes so muddled and messy - and it ends up feeling like the author fell too much in love with her own world that she couldn't form a concise plot with a beginning, middle, and end. There was even a spot near the very end in which the MC, Ice Cream Star, has this inner dialogue that attempts to wrap things up but doesn't do a decent job of it. And how could a couple paragraphs tie together over 500 pages of meandering and clutter?

Okay. A couple things:
- This book has a really intense dialogue. It's the form of English that Ice Cream Star, her "Sengles", and many other people in her area of the post-pandemic United States use.

On to what I really wanted to talk about: racial issues.
In an interview with Sandra Newman, she said ". . . the book isn’t about race – or it’s only very occasionally, tangentially, about race. It just suddenly felt like a real world I had discovered, rather than an imaginary world I was inventing."

Okay, if you're a white author writing about people of color, your book is automatically about race, I'm sorry. Especially if you're writing about people of color and the issues they face because of racial issues. You don't get a free pass because it feels different to you suddenly.

Reading the first 100 pages, I was thinking this book was the most interesting thing I've ever read - in a good way. And then after that, I realized it became the most interesting book I've ever read in the worst, most racist, awful, disgusting way.

It's all written with the assumption that, given an apocalypse of some kind and without the guidance of "civilized white people", people of color (and especially black people) will revert back to simple and violent lifestyles where rape and murder are common/expected. In contrast, the white people in the story that we're exposed to have retained all of their technology, have a cure for posies, among other things. The characters of color take relics and images left over from our version of the United States as "ultimate truths", such as Jesus Must Be White. I don't know if that was supposed to be ironic? But it makes my mouth just taste sour. The Marias, also, leave me confused. If they're supposed to be latin@, why do they call themselves spaniels, etc.? Kind of shows how the author's writing from a white perspective, because I would think even years, decades, etc. after our current time, latin@s wouldn't want to be referred to as "Spanish", the name colonists gave them . . .

Sandra Newman really takes the racism up a notch during the last 3/4 of the book, when Pasha gets to his tragic backstory. He tells Ice Cream about the wars in an African country called Lagos, and the place is described literally as a place "God made in His days of hatred". There's literally so many awful descriptors for this Terrible place and the Africans who live there, like "Africans love torture" and she describes in detail how white people killed and tortured these children in Lagos. Lagos, Africa. Why does this need to be described in detail? Why does this need to be included? Why Africa, specifically?

There's also this awful story in Pasha's past that the main character sympathizes with - a bit spoilery so

There's also some homophobic passages that are really tough to read. Even though Ice Cream comes around and with one sentence tells the one minor gay character she understands, it doesn't seem enough to make right the book's already printed homophobia. When Ice Cream finds out her best friend from youth is gay, she's horrified. It also leads to her commanding Pasha to kill her friend's lover - literally out of spite. There's also a line under a list of things American white people did bad in the "olden days": "whites had a bad religion where they worship paper money. Was mally churces callen banks, deciding all their laws. These whites live like diseases, all was homosexual selfish."

Reading this as a wlw just made me incredibly uncomfortable.

Another problem reading this is that I really loved Ice Cream Star and hated her character being tossed around by the plot and its characters. And the ending, especially that ending. If ever there was a more unsatisfactory ending than this . . .
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
May 10, 2015
Reading The Country of Ice Cream Star (TCICS) I was reminded of two novels. The first is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (review). It too depicts a post-apocalyptic world where a young, driven hero journeys from a parochial life into a much larger world and finds himself playing a much larger role than he had dreamed possible. In both books, the heroes retain an essential decency and innate moral resilience despite becoming wiser to how the world works. And both books are written in an invented dialect. In TCICS – as well as in Riddley Walker – the narrator’s English serves to bring her circumstances alive in a way that writing the novel in Standard English wouldn’t have. Everything Ice Cream sees, feels and does is brought into sharper focus because the reader has to experience it from a slightly skewed perspective. I can only describe the writing as “exuberant.” There’s an energy in it that makes reading it a pleasure.

The second book I’m reminded of is William Nolan’s Logan's Run. Here again we have a dystopian future. A true nightmare: a world run by teen-agers, where life ends at 21. In Logan’s Run, the death sentence is enforced by the Sandmen of Deep Sleep. In the world of Ice Cream Star, it’s plague that has carried off everyone over 21, and it continues to do so. Every child gets the “posies” around 18 or 19, and every child dies before their 21st year.

Ice Cream Sixteen Star is the oldest girl of a group of nomads – the Sengles – who are currently living near the ruins of Lowell, Mass., alongside more sedentary groups like the Lowells, the Christings and the Nat Mass Armies.

My mother and my grands and my great-grands been Sengle pure. Our people be a tarry night sort, and we skinny and long. My brother Driver climb a tree with only hands, because our bones so light, our muscles fortey strong. 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.

We Sengles be a wandering sort. We never grown nothing from anything, never had no tato patch nor cornfield. Be thieves, and brave to hunt. A Sengle hungry even when he eat, even when he rich, he still want to grab and rob, he hungry for something he ain’t never seen nor thought of. We was proud, we was ridiculous as wild animals, but we was bell and strong. (p. 3)

The delicate balance among the various groups is soon disrupted when the Sengles capture a “roo,” short for – as we learn – “Russian.” Pasha, apparently a deserter, tells Ice Cream that there’s a cure for the “posies” but it’s on the ships of an invading army down near Washington. Ice Cream determines to get that cure – both for the sake of her brother, who is showing signs of the disease, and for the sake of all her Sengles, in fact, for the sake of every child. And so begins her journey into a wider and more dangerous world than anything she’s seen. From New York – now known as Ciudad de las Marias, a catholic theocracy run by a gaggle of adolescent cardinals who would give the Renaissance Papacy a run for its money – to Quantico, where a band of “marines” holds on to the sacred grounds of the Mall, to confronting the invaders and wresting the cure from them (sort of).

Not to spoil it too much, but the ending is not a “happy” one. Not in the sense that Ice Cream and her allies save the day and bring a new, better way of life to the Nighted States. It’s messy, like life, and that’s what makes it so much more satisfying than otherwise. As Ice Cream writes at the conclusion:

And I know inside this final loss, I going to save this place. I be small in all this blackness world, this ship of drunken vampires, but through my hearten wounds, I living yet, and all my love the same. Nor death been ever arguments to me, I know my truth. I know ain’t evils in no life nor cruelties in no red hell can change the vally heart of Ice Cream Star. (p. 580)

TCICS compares favorably with Riddley Walker. I thoroughly enjoyed it and – after a long drought – can recommend something without reservation. This is a remarkable book, certainly the best new fiction I’ve read so far this year, and Ice Cream has joined my list of “favorite characters.”
Profile Image for Lisa Eckstein.
518 reviews18 followers
March 23, 2015
This book astounded me from the opening sentences, when I discovered the story is written in an invented dialect of English that doesn't yet exist but could after generations of language evolution. (You can read the opening here to see what I'm talking about.) As this ambitious narrative style signals, Newman did serious worldbuilding for her post-apocalyptic novel, and the reader experiences it naturally as the gripping story unfolds.

Ice Cream Star is fifteen years old, so she's one of her community's elders in a future where every child sickens and dies by the age of twenty. Ice Cream and her clan are aware that things were different in the time before a disastrous plague struck, but many generations have passed since then, and they know little of the world before. They survive in Massa woods by hunting wild animals, searching the ruins of long-abandoned houses, and trading with or stealing from other local groups. While they've warred in the past with some of their neighbors, life is relatively peaceful until the discovery of a strange child utterly unlike themselves. He sets the occupants of Massa woods on the path toward a greater war than they've ever known.

Much of the content in the book is difficult, as the story focuses on war and its harsh realities and also covers a range of other challenging subjects. Fortunately, Ice Cream serves as a powerful guide for both her people and the reader. There are many more fascinating aspects to Ice Cream's world that I haven't mentioned because I want you to discover them as you read. The reveal of information is handled beautifully, as is the choice to leave many details unexplained, and one of the pleasures of this book is making connections, recognizing places, and interpreting words that are initially mysterious. While the narrative dialect could be a deal breaker for some readers, it's deftly executed, and I recommend giving it a try even if you're skeptical. I was so captivated by Ice Cream's voice that I often found myself thinking in it when I set the book down. This is a novel that will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for rubywednesday.
848 reviews58 followers
April 27, 2015
Five Stars. All the stars. I cannot overstate how much I loved this book. I got to the end of what, 600 pages? -- and went right back to the start again.

I'd compare it to the raw, youthful voice in Heather O'Neill's books, combined with the innovative writing (though less so) of Eimear MacBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing with a dash of Katniss Everdeen and Cormac MacCarthy and the elements I loved from the first Divergent book.

But better.

Firstly, the writing just worked for me. I am wary of things written in dialect (too many issues unless written by a native speaker.) but I adore non-standard English. Since the book was set so far in the future, the language had evolved enough for me not to be uncomfortable with a white writer tackling black voices. The Sengles language was more a mish-mash patois, dashed with French-rooted words, than solely the AAVE where it had its origins. It was a joy to read, once you fall into the rhythm. I just love that stuff.

Although, I would have like to see some more variation once they got to Marias. The lost in translation bit with the novice wasn't enough for me. I did enjoy the Quanticos speech patterns a lot, though.

At no point though did it feel inauthentic. I never came across something that didn't work and I especially loved the early parts that set the tone, like references to old brands and learning the Sengles names.

It was a masterclass in show don't tell. From throwing the reader headfirst into the language, to occasionally having other characters point out things the main characters don't see, to never fully explaining motivations and if they can be trusted. Having Ice-Cream narrate other people's experiences as they were told to her (Pasha's wars, Russians in Massa woods etc) was not a choice I would have made but it kept things ticking along nicely, and also, the book didn't need to be in anyone's voice but hers.

Secondly, the plot was fab. It took a lot of the usual suspects, tropes even, and had so much fun with them. We've seen plucky heroines like Ice Cream a lot in the last few years (but never with such rawness, such flaws I would argue) but she felt fresh on every page. Her world view and her spirit just shone. But the plot moved fast, it was surprising. The action and the violence built slowly and assuredly until the bloody climax. I'm not usually an action fan but I could appreciate how it was done here. I loved the balance of quiet moments, loaded conversations and mental twists, too.

For other readers, the Cold-War-esque villains probalbly felt a bit overly familiar or clownish but I think I'm a little bit younger and from a different place for that to figure.

The reflections on war, violence, personhood, loyalty, trust and power that ran through every plot point and every conversation were both poignant and clever. I don't think I've ever read something that showed war on such a personal level.

Finally, it was the characters that made this novel. Oh, it's Ice-Cream's story and she is a wonderful person to tell it. She is completely fleshed out, sometimes extremely annoying in the way teenagers are, and difficult in the way people in awful cirumstances, but I always enjoyed her story and always rooted for her. The Sengles, Lowells and all the Massa people were so full of life they leaped off the page. Especially Keepers and First Runner. The Quantico people were as smooth and prickly as I would expect military people to be. Bashir and the Polkonvik were compelling.

Anselm was a little stereotypical, I found. And some of the other apostles blended together. I would have like to have seen more of Simon. He was cool.

And I have to confess I am a little bit in love with Pasha Roo. What a character. The pages he was on (most of them) were my favourite ones of all. (Except when he is bad. And the couple of times he was described as screaming things.)

Of course, we see him through Ice-Cream's eyes who cares for him more than she can admit to herself. There is no question of his misdeeds but they are viewed through her lense. I think he told the truth in the car that time, fwiw.

The duality of personhood is something this book made me think a lot about. Ice Cream is the Virgin Maria but she isn't. Driver is the leader but he isn't. Mamadou is the cold, violent New King but not to Ice-Cream. Pasha is a roo soldier, an addict, a killer and he's also the only one Ice Cream can depend on and he cares deeply for her. People can be different things at once, especially in times of war and mass death.

Evil but needful, is a phrase that runs through the book regarding war and death and lies etc. The characters almost all do bad things that they feel are needful in the moment. Then they have to cope with them. Or they have to decide where their personal line is drawn. It's humanity in a nutshell and it's quite fascinating.

So, yeah, I will stop now. But I loved this and I think other people would love it too.

Profile Image for JenniferD.
1,006 reviews359 followers
June 6, 2017
2.5-stars, really.
"This is a bleak and brutal book, but when one encounters a vision of this scale and originality, that must be respected." *
well.. i don't really know what this book is supposed to be doing... or who it's aimed at? not that that matters, probably. i was entertained, to a point. i was impressed, to a point. the use of language was interesting and inventive, and i didn't find it difficult (i have read many reviews where people couldn't get past the language. i recognize it's different and will not be for all readers. you will know fairly quickly if it's for you, or not as you are dropped right into it from page one, with no assistance from a glossary.)

i don't have much experience (or success) with speculative fiction, or post-pandemic literature. so i don't know if this is a great book for these areas? to me it felt creative as newman tried to wrestle some huge ideas. ultimately, though, i felt the story was padded and longer than it needed to be. in the acknowledgments, newman thanks one of her editors for wrangling this novel down to 640p. from the more than 900 page original manuscript. now, i love (LOVE!) a great, chunky read. but i think it takes a lot to make these long books not feel padded. i experienced moments of 'ugh! i have to pick this up again.' once i got past the halfway point in the story. so that was a bummer.

there are some fairly grim and graphic moments in the story - a pandemic of 'posies' has wiped out most people over the age of 20. a cure is rumoured to exist, and some characters appear who are 30, or 52... so the quest is to acquire the cure to help an ailing brother, all while negotiating warring factions of children. the time is about 80 years in the future (or 80 years post-pandemic.) because the kids are running things, life happens quite differently. they are smoking and drinking and having sex, and babies, very young (like, from 12+). 'parents' only ever have a few years with their kids, if they are lucky. so children are raising children. they are taught to fight and hunt and scavenge for their existence. it's not an easy life at all, but in some pockets, wealth and electricity and hot water and cars exist and are enjoyed - though they are surrounded by looting, crime, and armed battles.

so, as i experienced with Station Eleven, i often had trouble suspending my disbelief and was often asking or saying 'yes, but...' even though i feel the story could have been tighter, in some cases much was never explained or addressed. (i don't tend to need to be given the full picture, or have things spelled out for me in literature. but i found it weird to encounter these disparities and not have it noted as to how or why. even tiny acknowledgments would have been cool. though perhaps this is a reflection of my inexperience in reading these types of books?)i also found the ending fairly disappointing.

anyway... i read it and i totally respect what newman's doing here. i just didn't love it. sorry.

* - quote from a.v. club: http://www.avclub.com/review/country-...

04 april 2015:

reading notes:

while i am only a short way into this book, i have already thought of an amped-up Station Eleven several times. (it was a fairly recent read for me, so it's a bit fresh stilll.) it's a bit lord of the flies-ish too.

newman has a great q&a with the WSJ in which she was asked about similarities between her novel and S11: http://www.wsj.com/articles/sandra-ne...

if you are interested, excerpt also provided by the WSJ: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2015/0...
Profile Image for Nat.
103 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2017
As much as I loved the beginning of the book, the world-building, the made-up language and Ice Cream herself, the aspects I disliked just took over the longer I read.

This book is chock-full with rapes and it got tiring after a while. On top of that, it's presented in a very weird way (Ice Cream condemns the Feathers for their raping ways but all the rape victims are presented as weak and/or stupid and she is in love with the chief of the rapists, who is repeatedly presented in a positive way. The comments about all the female soldiers being raped by the Russians in the last chapter was almost punctuation at this point).

The second thing I really disliked was Ice Cream's love life. Talk about YA cliches : everybody is in love with her and the one she loves is absolutely toxic. Their relationship makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like a healthy, loving and caring example of what true love is. Also, the predominance of her love life had the nasty result that almost all the secondary characters of importance are male. The female characters never last more than a few chapters before disappearing in the ether (if they aren't raped and/or murdered, that is).

Also, what is with that ending? Is Sandra Newman aiming for a sequel? That is the only logical explanation for the lack of resolution and the vagueness of it all.

Again, I did enjoy many aspects of the story and her very interesting writing saves the book. But gosh, does it get long after a while....
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Johanna.
286 reviews10 followers
March 19, 2015
Sandra Newman likes, I think, to play with readers. She gives us Ice Cream, one of the best fictional companions ever, and all the conventions and clichés of the dystopian adventure, and then shoots those conventions past normal, past absurd, past transcendence, letting them fall in ashes. This is most noticeable in the silly middle, when Ice Cream unwillingly enacts a makeover fantasy and discovers under it a plot so byzantine she gets bored. (The plot, throughout, is like a mechanical rabbit at the dog track; you keep turning pages, you never catch a rabbit.) Even stranger, for a leftie who watched the cold war end, is that the Russians are the villains again, cunning and vicious. I could not help but put Putin’s face on one character.

And it’s a book in the voice of a Black teenager written by a white woman. And it’s in dialect. As a white person, I can’t argue the appropriateness of Newman’s presumption but only note that Ice Cream sounds true to me. Maybe because of the language, a patois of African American vernacular and, I’m guessing, West African French, stripped down and concrete, a raw, glittering language different from anything I’ve heard but somehow suited to children living on scavenge and bowhunting. Ice Cream's voice is the entire book, the reason to care, the life of it. The point of dystopias is not to predict or change the future but to lay bare the horror of here and now. The point of Ice Cream Star is to fight anyway.
Profile Image for Caroline.
222 reviews10 followers
December 30, 2017
This is one of the best books I have ever read. I am at a complete loss regarding its total lack of splash. I would give it six stars if I could.

It all started innocently enough when I was browsing through NPR’s end of year “Best Books of 2015” list (Can we all agree that the book round-ups are one of the best things about the end of the year? I mean really, compared to them, who cares about Christmas?). An admission: I totally judge a book by both its cover and title. This book piqued my interest on both counts. An intriguing title coupled with a rather ominous/melancholy cover of abandoned buildings – okay, I’ll bite. Then, I read the blurb. Sold.

The Country of Ice Cream Star is set in a world populated only by children due to a virulent disease that only affects adults, beginning roughly at age 20. One hundred years after first appearance of the disease, the remaining children have formed a variety of tribes and a rudimentary society has emerged from the epidemic. Ice Cream Star is a fourteen year old girl who goes on a journey looking for a cure for this disease once her older brother begins showing symptoms. To give away much more than that would spoil the journey, and holy hell is it amazing.

So why is this book so good? A number of reasons.

1) The writing is unbelievable, with the caveat that I could also see people hating it and not being able to make it more than 50 pages in. Why? The entire novel (all 600+ pages of it) is written in patois. In a clever linguistic flourish, with all of the adults having been gone for a century, the English language has evolved. Example: “Be a foolishness of life, how we forget our hurts in sleep - like they unmade there, taken back into the time before. We wake in stupid innocence. Then all pains flash to memory, and every cruelty be fresh.” Like Alex’s slang in A Clockwork Orange, it’s an extremely effective way of setting the scene for the reader, but is also just beautiful. I don’t know how Sandra Newman managed to pull this off without it coming across as forced and unnatural, but it doesn’t at all. Instead it reads like Shakespeare. I read so many snippets of this book out loud to Tom that I think I drove him half crazy.

2) Ice Cream Star is my hero. Major kudos to Newman for successfully writing a young female protagonist who is smart and brave, but still complex and imperfect. She reminded me of Lyra Belacqua in the His Dark Materials trilogy, which is the highest complement I can give a young female book character. Wonderfully, Newman didn’t neglect the other characters either. El Mayor, NewKing Mamadou, Keepers Eight, and Pasha Roo are just as textured, as are the relationships between the characters.

3) Like deep themes in your books? Stop and stay a while. Good and evil. War and peace. Science and religion. Race. Tribalism. Technology. Love. Hate. Bravery. Fear. Honor. This and more, it’s all here.

4) It’s completely gripping. There are pieces for the reader to put together in this book, and Newman doles them out masterfully.

Before I close, a few words of warning.

There is an elephant in the room that must be mentioned. Essentially all of the major characters in this book are non-white. The patois itself relies heavily on rhythm and slang that is often associated with certain types of African American speech. What makes this especially complicated? Sandra Newman is white. Do I appreciate that the way this book is written and the implications of cultural appropriation by the author could really trouble people? Yes, absolutely. Did it trouble me? Not really. I think because it didn’t feel like a parlor trick. The characters and their speech didn’t feel invented to make the book feel edgy or exotic; instead, I felt like they had been discovered, fully-formed, by the author. However, does my not being troubled speak to some sort of privilege on my part? I think it probably does, yes. I still don’t really know what to do with all of this other than acknowledge that in theory it makes me uncomfortable, but in practice I was too busy falling in love with the characters and story while reading it to unpack those feelings further.

This is a bleak, bleak book. Many difficult, awful things happen. I spend an inordinate amount of the book in a heightened emotional state, and towards the end was basically a mess of a human being. Get your Kleenex ready.

Why are you still reading this?? Go track this book down already!
Profile Image for Paula.
Author 1 book214 followers
September 25, 2015
Obsessed with this book right now. Listening to it in the car and reading it on the couch - partly I need both channels in order to discern maximum meaning from the postapocaliptic patois, and partly because said patois is so damn poetic.

Like most postapocalypse narratives, there is an enormous amount of commentary on our contemporary world. Colonialization, exploitation of children for war, religious fundamentalism, and the vulnerability of the peaceable - all are amplified in this unstable environment, like weeds taking advantage of the disturbed soil of a roadcut. This book be vally bone.
Profile Image for Simone.
170 reviews6 followers
August 25, 2014
And ... I'm spent. What starts out as a difficult but interesting language and fate-of-the-earth thought experiment becomes, by turns, a poetic journey into the depths of human depravity and the heights of human love and compassion, told with the same intelligence and fearlessness the author bestows upon her heroine. Worth persevering with, but not for the faint (feint) of heart.
Profile Image for Horace Derwent.
2,227 reviews170 followers
September 24, 2016
c'est très intéressant, putain!

pain-in-the-assly inter resting, feels like i'm reading Fight Club :D
Profile Image for Tiara.
463 reviews61 followers
February 13, 2017
More reviews @ Bibliosanctum

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this audiobook was provided to me by Blackstone Audio. I would like to thank the author and the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed from here forward are my own.

I couldn't decide between 3.5 stars or 4 stars, so I just settled on 4 stars. I'm going to be 110% honest with you here. This book is not for everyone. The frustration doesn't arise so much from the story itself rather than the language it's written in. Newman has taken AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and tweaked it even more with various dialects like Louisiana French, Haitian Creole, even scatterings of Spanish, to give these characters a very nuanced patois. It'll either click with you or it won't. If English isn't your native language (and even if it is your first language but you have a tough time catching patois from any locale whether it's Southern or from regions up North or if you're just a person who's easily bothered/distracted by patois in fiction), I definitely recommend reading the book over listening to it because the language can be quite difficult to grasp by listening to it. I was able to settle into a comfortable understanding of the language. As a Southerner, I hear similar dialect on a daily basis, especially since I live in this strange nook of the Southern US where I hear Spanish, Louisiana Regional French, and of course AAVE often. I have to interact with people on a daily basis who speak these mashup of dialects. You'd be amazed at how those languages can come together and create this interesting "new" language as in Newman's book. I can also point out what I think are some other dialects she's borrowed from, but with less certainty than the ones mentioned. I also had the print book on hand as well to reference if something seemed a little confusing, but I rarely had to use it other than to make sure how certain things were spelled and there's another non-English dialect spoken (I'd tell you which, but that would be a spoiler supreme). I think there'd be an interesting case for HOW and WHY language evolved in this particular way for these characters.

In this story, adults over the age of about nineteen have all died, leaving behind children to try to structure a society among themselves for about two generations. Some type of disease has racked the United States (now called the Nighted States in this new patois). It managed to kill most of the white people no matter the age, leaving the world largely inhabited by children of color. However, that's not to say that all white people are dead. The children have taken to calling a group of white people that roam the "Roos" (like Kangaroos). These are feared groups of people who are said to kidnap and kill any tribes they come across. Also, these children are not completely immune to whatever has killed most of the population. Most children don't live beyond their nineteenth birthday and usually develop what they call "posie" by the time they're eighteen. Some die younger from it, but mostly, it takes years for them to die from the mysterious disease. Since there is no cure for the disease, they die a very painful death.

The heroine of this story is Ice Cream Fifteen Star who lives with a nomadic band of children called the Sengles. Her tribe is headed by her brother Driver Eighteen Star. The numbers between their name seem to signify their ages. Ice knows that Driver is sick and will no longer be able to head their group soon. She knows his position will end up going to a seemingly cruel boy named Crow. During one of their scavenger hunts in a town, they encounter and capture a single Roo. Ice learns that this Roo may be thirty-years old. She learns about things happening outside her small world that she's never dreamed of from him, including a cure for the posie, and it's with this knowledge in mind that she decides she's going to find this cure for her brother. She doesn't care what it means for her life. She only know she needs to find this cure or die trying for the sake of her tribe.

To call this a Young Adult book would be completely unfair to this book. The only thing that really strikes out to me as "Young Adult" are the ages of most of the characters in this book. The situations they find themselves in are much larger in scope and complexity than your average YA novel. You essentially have this book that is part dystopia, part science fiction, and part heroic fantasy. At its core this book is a typical heroic journey that has many of the major trappings of a heroic journey. However, what Newman has managed to do is give it a bit of a different feel to it. You don't have your warriors or band of merry travelers. You have a young girl, who has been called lazy because she won't have babies, who loves the "wrong" man (a love more characterized by its troubled love/hate forbidden nature than anything else) traveling this grim country hoping to save not just her tribe, but everyone. Despite how she's grown up, there's still youthful hope in her. She's fifteen and she's idealistic. She's at that age where, even though she's considered nearing the end of her life, she still holds on to childish whimsy that she can save the world, that there's nothing she can't do if she puts her mind to it. She still has some of that youthful optimism. She's also at that age where betrayals, truths, and realities affect her much harder than they would if she were already an adult and capable of navigating an adult world.

Traversing this scarred landscape, Ice's journey is scary and brave, revealing her childlike vulnerabilities and a ferocious will to survive in the face of impossible odds. She tries to make the best of the situations that are thrown at her. She tries to make the right decisions in the face of so many overwhelming choices because her decisions don't just impact her but the people closest to her that look to her to lead them and keep them safe. Big responsibilities for a girl who's only fifteen, and it's hard for the readers to grasp that she's not doing anything unusual. She is considered the wiser, older person for her tribe to look up to. But to us she's just a baby.

Lisa Renee Pitts was an excellent voice to this story. It's easy for narrators to sound uncomfortable, shallow, or just plain weird voicing patois, but Pitts sounded natural and in her element. She even did a wonderful job with voicing Pasha's (the captured Roo) accented patois as he learned the language of these children. I don't think they could've picked a better narrator for this story. She brought just the right of emotion and matter-of-factness that is Ice's life, especially capturing both the child and the woman who resided in Ice.

This book is painful, joyful, ugly, beautiful--so many incongruous things, if you can stick with the journey. This book isn't without its problem, the most polarizing of these problems probably being the dialect. Suspension of belief might come into play for some when readers learn more about what's really happening in their world. I felt like the middle of the novel was a bit weaker and strange compared to its beginning and end, but that doesn't mean everyone will see it that way. However, this is an emotional, raw journey that forces a girl, who's already experienced so much, to shoulder even more of a burden and put her faith in people she doesn't wholly trust. She's also thrust into a world that is harder for her to negotiate her terms in, and she has to figure out how to make this work. It makes you wonder if this is the last we've seen of Ice Cream Fifteen Star. However, if it is, at least the readers can decide what to take from this ending.
Profile Image for Larry.
145 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2014
I’ve never read anything like it. A 600+ page novel written in an author-invented pigeon English.

The story is set in the post-apocalyptic Nighted States. Ice Cream Star, the teen-age narrator, introduces her tribe in paragraph three of the book:

“We Sengles be a wandering sort. We never grown nothing from anything, never had no tato patch nor cornfield. Be thieves, and brave to hunt. A Sengle hungry even when he eat, even when he rich, he still want to grab and rob, he hungry for something he ain’t never seen nor thought of. We was so proud, we was ridiculous as wild animals, but we was bell and strong.”

It took me about 30 pages to adjust to reading this mash-up language, but the story pulls you along until you’re reading it without too much difficulty – though, admittedly, every few pages I would hit a “say what?” sentence and need to re-read it several times.

While never fully explained, the apocalyptic event that destroyed or altered civilization was the spread of a disease that killed everyone by the end of their teen years. While some societies in Europe had a vaccine, North Americans and many others were ravaged. Against this backdrop, several super-powers emerged and, vaccine protected, waged wars to subdue, enslave and conquer other peoples around the world. And that war was about to intrude on the remaining tribes living in the Nighted States, or what used to be the New England and mid-Atlantic regions of the former United States.

The Sengles were just one small tribe, who had a mix of relations with other tribes – some positive, some antagonistic, some ambiguous and symbiotic. But increasingly, they faced the threat of open warfare, against the mysterious roos and later the Quanticos, who lived what remained of Washington, D.C.

The girls, like Ice Cream, often fought in wars or battles like their male counterparts – which leads to the most disturbing part of the story. The girls were subject to a brutal rape culture. Girls who were captured or enslaved by others were brutally and sexually abused. And what was most difficult to digest was Ice Cream Star’s seeming acceptance that such outcomes were just the way the world worked, even as she fought against it as much as she could.

The story unfolds with rumours and then the realities that the roos were about to invade, conquer and enslave the tribes. We gradually discover who the roos are, why they are fighting the Quanticos. And we are introduced to the equally disturbing, yet humorous, society of very bizarre neo-Catholics who run the remnants of New York City and periodically select a Maria and Jesus as their rulers.

It’s a fabulous tale, though I felt the story lost some of its momentum, direction and coherence toward the end. A great book, or even good book, doesn’t need a tidy ending with all questions answered and mysteries solved. But it almost seemed like the author, brilliant as she is, didn’t really know where to take the story.

In any case, The Country of Ice Cream Star is one-of-a-kind and well worth the read. Just don’t become too frustrated in the first several dozen pages as you adjust to Sengle-speak.
Profile Image for Tamsen.
951 reviews
June 14, 2016
Wow. This started out as a three-star book and quickly declined into the worst book I've read this year.

It was just such a waste of time.

The first thing you notice about this book is the pidgin English. It's a bit of a challenge, but isn't the reason this wins worst book of the year. You get used to it, kind of, and then you put the book down for the night and it's hard to immerse yourself in the rhythm the next day. You do this for days.

Somewhere around 200 pages, you realize this is just kind of a mess. Things aren't really making sense or seem pointless. You'll be moving along with the story and then a character will do a slight flashback (like maybe a few weeks) to explain something that is still happening in the present. It's pointless, just like the division of sections into different weeks.

Something gets lost in pidgin English too. You think, did I miss it, was it explained, or is it because I don't get Senglish? I'm not quite sure what happened to several of the main characters. I didn't care enough to go back and try to figure it out.

A lot of plot points are contrived. I mean, really? Ice Cream Star is so amazing and smart that she's going to save the entire US from posies? How she didn't die, like, 400 times is beyond me.

I kept lamenting the fact that maybe this just needed a good editor... and why do authors think they need to write 600 pages for a good book?! It exposes your flaws, people. And then I got to the end. (Which by the way - this is an almost 600 page book, is not advertised as part of a series, and ends on a cliffhanger, so just wait until it's "The Universe of Ice Cream Star.") In the acknowledgements, Newman mentions that the first draft was 900 pages and a "chaotic mess." I thought to myself, JESUS. The editors did use some editing skills, I guess.

This is one of those books that I kept reading in hopes it would get better. It doesn't. It gets far worse. Give up if you hate it by page 250. Really. The concept is cool, but is executed (in the words of the AUTHOR) as a chaotic mess. You'll be gratty.
Profile Image for Robin Kirk.
Author 30 books64 followers
December 28, 2018
Honest: I didn't finish. After a certain point, the weight of a white female writer using her version of ebonics to express the speech of non-white teens in a post apocalyptic world just became ... too much. A lot of the writing was beautiful and arresting. But I wonder if this book got in just under the wire of the current (and welcome) We Need Diverse Books movement. I don't think it would have been published, say, a year later. I started to ask myself why this curious tick of speech was really, really necessary to tell this particular story. And I came up with the conclusion that it wasn't, not really. Compared to books like Station Eleven or The Girl With All the Gifts, this book, in the end, seemed too much an oddity that ended up detracting from, not enhancing, the story she was trying to tell.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews489 followers
April 21, 2016
there is no doubt that sandra newman in a genius. i haven't read her other books, but this one is just mind-blowing. the first mind-blowing thing is the language, that will or will not be challenging to you depending on the kind of mind you have, and on how easily you adapt to different sounds and grammatical constructions (i am not particularly good at either of th0se, so the language remained a bit challenging for me, though only to the extent that it slowed me down a little). regardless of its ease, the language of this book is absolutely mesmerizing: it is intensely lyrical (at some point i wondered whether i was willing to go so far as to declare the whole thing a long prose poem), it is incredibly inventive, it seems to me to present a respectable linguistic coherence and perhaps some pidginization (french seems to be an influence), and is very, very funny.

this is one of those books that tell of harrowing stories in the voice of a young narrator who is, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, pretty darn hilarious. as such, it would qualify in my book as twee, not something i mean in a good sense. other examples of twee would be Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (harrowing, funny, cute), All the Light We Cannot See (harrowing, cute), and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (harrowing, occasionally precious, magical). of these book, i love Extremely Loud and i think the twee works to great effect there, and, now, The Country of Ice Cream Star, where the twee seems to make this a YA book. i have nothing against YA books, except i don't read them.

since sandra newman is a genius, though, i am oh-so-happy to disregard the twee and focus instead on all the other genius aspect of this great novel.

the story is the story of an impossible dream. ice cream star, the protagonist, narrator, and hero, is a young female survivor of an apocalyptic plague that left people on at least the north-east of the united states afflicted by a disease that kills them before they reach age 20 or 21. at 15, ice cream star is already quite grown up, and soon (this happens quite near the beginning so i hope no one will consider it a spoiler) the leader of her people. her people is made out of few dozen souls, many of whom quite young (obviously); still, given the necessity of survival in all sorts of rough situations, being the leader is a position of high responsibility. ice cream star is fully equal to this responsibility, and then some. the impossible dream is to chase down the cure that will allow the young'uns to live to a ripe old age.

the story evolves in the most adventurous, bizarre, creative and breathtaking way possible, and i won't say anything about it. this is a book that keeps on giving and, once you get the hang of the language, it will be hard to put down.

i'm just going to mention something that struck me. everyone in the book is so damn young. it made me re-evaluate youth and non-youth in terms of relative duration. in a society where everyone dies by age 20, 13 year olds are quite mature and ready, say, to procreate (something it's imperative they do, if they want to spend at least some time with their own children). in a society in which people last well into their 80s, adulthood is feared and aimed to be delayed (see the pervasive anxiety of "adulting"), youth is semi-worshipped (youngsters consider themselves over the hill at 24), and old age is despised and (therefore) terrifying. there seem to be no chronological phases of life, in our real (western) world, that are unequivocally good. aging becomes a tremendous cause of anxiety the moment you are able to formulate the thought of its existence.

this is true in Country too, to some extent, but only because of the premature death of healthy bodies. the "children," though, seem to take this in stride. it's what happens, and there appears to be general equanimity about it.

i don't know if this is a failure of exploration on the part of the author. maybe so. but i enjoyed, as i read, reminding myself that the characters were all kids. apparently it is quite possibly to live without adults. sad, this.

i read this while being sick because relapsing from chronic illness, and the courage of ice cream star kept me going. she goes through soul-crushing loss, lots of injury, lots of fear, and lots of despair with the heart of a lion and the humor of a rock star. through tragedies half of whose magnitude would fell me, she stays optimistic, lucid, and hilariously focused on the next step. the solutions she comes up with are not always the most brilliant, but she tries, and tries, and never gives up.

this is what i mean when i say that this is the story of a dream. the odds, all told, are pretty shabby, yet ice cream star simply doesn't care. if saving her people required going to the moon, she would try till her very last breath.

so, you see, this is quite optimistic and encouraging. and this is what made me overlook some of the book's less perfect aspects (its possible twee quality, the underexploration of a foreshortened life, in spite of the fact that this is literally the engine of the book's plot!), and give it five stars.

as is de rigoeur in YA literature, there are all sorts of moments in which various characters have to choose between good and evil, selfishness and generosity, the love of one and the love of many, obedience and their own conscience. these are all well done -- convincing, engaging, gripping, and fun.

look, the world is going to shit, but do like ice cream star: keep your heart vally, full, and clear, and you'll see your way right through everything life throws at you.
Profile Image for Matt.
374 reviews18 followers
February 3, 2015
The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman is nothing short of epic, both in narrative scope and literary achievement.

So much of the the joy of Ice Cream Star lies in the act of discovery: of the completely foreign, but not-to-distant future in which it takes place and of the language in which Ice Cream Star, the 15 year old young woman who's the book's narrator, sets down her story. The world Newman creates is original, richly detailed, and compellingly realized, down to the Pidgen English patois that the story is told in.

From the get-go, Newman drops us into Ice Cream Star's world in media res. This is Ice Cream Star's reality and Newman, to her credit, trusts her readers enough not to contort her story to hold our hands. She deftly brings readers along, threading details into the story so we slowly begin to piece together what happened and establish a operational framework for this world. Then, just when you think you have a handle on the book's human and social landscape, the world opens up in surprising, delightful ways.

While the world-building that Newman does here is remarkable, Margaret Atwood-caliber stuff, what elevates and separates The Country of Ice Cream Star from other post-apocalyptic literary fiction is the language.

The strange and deceptively simple language Newman created makes the book a bit of a challenge to get immediately immersed in. But it is entirely worth the effort. The story grabs you from the start and the plot moves swiftly, carrying you along until you get adjusted. Once accustomed to the language, I found it a slyly effective way to incisively and humorously (and often beautifully) take a sideways angle to cut through absurdities of human relations, American institutions and societal norms. By the end, I'd grown to love the language and Ice Cream Star's voice: a hickory stick with a poet's radiant heart.

At turns violent, romantic, funny and touching, The Country of Ice Cream Star wraps an exploration of power, American institutions, race and human nature into a ripping, twisting, turning epic.

As is true for the most rewarding and memorable trips to foreign lands, visitors to The Country of Ice Cream Star should immerse themselves. Comprehension and navigation are a challenge at first, but you'll catch on quickly, freeing you to fully experience the particular wonders the place has to offer. The Country of Ice Cream Star is wonderful.
Profile Image for Steelwhisper.
Author 5 books395 followers
September 4, 2019

Sometimes I pick up on a book far too late. With the entire wave of dystopian YA already more or less a past thing, I couldn't find any major motivation left in me to drag myself through yet another version of "pwoor US kids on a quest".

Quite frankly, the pidgin language gimmick quickly grated on me. I'm one of those obnoxious people who firmly believe that the less language draws attention to itself - outside poetry and song texts - the better the work is written. When I completely forget that language is the medium which makes me live inside a story, then I personally consider this a master piece. Which is why James Joyce isn't one of the greats for me, and while Newman seems to have had aspirations, she sure as hell isn't even a few steps on her route towards Joyce. Indeed, and as an outsider looking in, I found all that pidgin or attempted Ebonics being rather racist towards black and brown people. Sort of making Hollywood's "Mammy-English" the natural version for black people born and raised in the USA at our day and age. Happily I am not the only one thinking this:


Nor do I seem to be the only one, whose scalp started to itch after a while:


If you take the undeniably huge effort for inventing pidgin English out of the equation, you are left with a dime a dozen plot very common in YA dystopia. As I said, I got to this one too late. Maybe ten years ago I might have appreciated some of the ideas, but truth be told, I still consider "Unwind" the far superior take of that genre.
1 review2 followers
November 10, 2015
I found this book recommended for me because I had read and loved Station Eleven, which is also a post-apocalyptic concept. I didn't find this book to have as much nuance, and since I couldn't help but compare, The Country of Ice Cream Star kind of fell flat for me.

The language was the first barrier. It wasn't too challenging, and was often very poetic, in its way. However, it wasn't the kind of thing that got much easier as you went, and so the reading was slow going. I feel like I spent half of my reading energy just understanding what the narrator was saying, and didn't much left to care about the story.

Which was actually ok, because the story was pretty simplistic. I guess that makes sense, since the narrator is only 15 or so, but I still found myself wanting more.

I also was very disappointed by the ending. I felt that the story just stopped, and didn't wrap anything up. I'm not sure how else I wanted it to end, but that wasn't it.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,682 reviews636 followers
November 24, 2019
‘The Country of Ice Cream Star’ has an interesting combination of genre characteristics: the 15-year old first person narration of YA and the experimental linguistic world-building of literary sci-fi. The setting is America long after a pandemic wiped out much of the population, including nearly all white people. Life expectancy now hovers around twenty years thanks to this plague, known formally as WAKS and colloquially as posies. The titular protagonist lives a nomadic life of hunting and scavenging with a group of friends and relatives. As the book begins, she comes across a white man who she decides not to kill and discovers that her brother has the deadly plague. A sprawling and complicated plot then takes Ice Cream Star to familiar communities in her vicinity, full of friends and foes, and eventually into what used to be New York and Washington DC. The world-building is based on Ice Cream Star’s voice, as her community use a distinctive slangy dialect borrowing liberally from French. It took me a little while to get used to, and might be more challenging if you know no French. The rhythm is great, though. Here’s an example:

Before murder wars, it been ten Christing homes in Massa woods. These people mostly fleeing north, whoever can survive. Now only Christing Tophet stay. Ya, in time before and time remaining, Christings live the same. House got one husband ruling it, with any-number wives and every enfant that they breed. And all believe a god who live in two sticks. Each Christing wear around their neck a string with two sticks crossing - and truth, is healthy people. Can think, this god do something, they live fatter than no Sengle child.

I liked the use of language for world-building, especially when Ice Cream Star encounters others speaking ‘Panish’ and ‘Rooish’. The post-collapse communities are vivid and interesting seen through Ice Cream’s eyes. However, this novel is 630 pages long and personally I think 200 pages could have been removed. It is slow to get going, which is why I’ve ostensibly been reading it for nearly a month. The middle section then languishes after a sudden twist that really stretches credulity. The final two hundred pages, however, are much faster paced and very compelling. They contain far more action and focus on platonic relationships rather than romance. The (obligatory?) love triangle plot thread did not engage my interest.

I’m wary of recommending this novel, as it really is longer and therefore harder work than it needs to be. Ice Cream Star is an appealing character and the settings are well-realised. However the plot and pace are erratic. Action set pieces are not always strung together very clearly. The body count is high and the violence often brutal. None of the secondary characters get a great deal of development, as can be an issue with first person narration. There are some brilliant settings and moments, but I found a certain amount of digging was required to reach them.
359 reviews
April 9, 2016
The first third of this book deserved 3 or 4 stars. The last two-thirds deserved zero stars.

This book starts off with such an interesting premise. She builds this world and language that feel real, and it all makes sense. They flesh out the relationships in an interesting way, and there is complexity there.

But then when they go south, everything turns to shit. In the plot, that is. In New York, this carefully constructed world becomes pretty unbelievable. You're telling me 15 and 16-year old kids are practicing dirty, crafty politics and being generals in wars? They portrayed everyone as though they were 30 years old, which made no sense whatsoever.

And then most of the second half of the book was bogged down by horrible dialogue. Instead of things happening, Ice Cream wanders around doing nothing and only hears about the action from her conversations with various people. And this conversation is pretty painful. The language becomes really burdensome after 500 pages of it. She turns out to be kind of an idiot, though I think the author is trying to show how she is brave.

The end of the book is incredibly insulting to a reader who has toiled through 500+ pages of inane dialogue and ridiculous jargon. It's very War of the World-esque, where instead of explaining anything or offering any kind of credulous conclusion, it simply ends with a stupid reason. Literally, after pages and pages of battling in DC against the Russians (with incredibly confusing descriptions of a city I've lived in for five years, to the point where I couldn't even picture where they were half the time), the conclusion is ONE PARAGRAPH. One stinking paragraph where she says something like, "And that's how I got the cure for the entire United States" in her stupid language. And that's literally it. Couldn't believe it. Stupid.

Also, not sure why she set some things the way she did in the book. There were a lot of points she brought up and then never explained. Ever. Like why are all the children left in Massachusetts black? And why do they speak the way they do? Felt vaguely racist since she never explained it. And then what happened to the sleepers? What is WAKS? What is posies? We never find out. Why do the spanish rule New York City and the English-speaking people occupy the lowest rung of the ladder? Was that supposed to be some commentary on race relations, and what it would look like if things were turned upside down? There was no real point or explanation to that. Why are there no more white people left in the US? Why are the Russians invading everywhere? Why is Europe all black and somehow resisted the Russians? Why do some have the cure, but the US does not? So many questions, and literally zero of them are answered. Makes me feel like the literary slog was as pointless as the war against the roos.

For a book that showed such promise, it ended up being horribly disappointing and terrible. Save yourself the time of reading it and spend it instead pulling out your own fingernails.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
134 reviews
July 24, 2014
In the detritus of this generation of post-apocalyptic literature Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star stands head, shoulders, and belt buckle above the rest. Ice Cream Star is fourth-oldest among the thirty-some members of the Sengle tribe, living in what once was Massachusetts. In two or three years, after the older members die, she will be responsible in every way for the Sengles. Ice Cream Star is fifteen years old.

In the indistinct past a plague has taken all adults and still claims every person during his or her nineteenth year. Now random-sized groups of children live in various conditions, from hunting bands of ragged nomads to a group maintaining a small, river-generated electric grid, and face hunger, disease, war, and slavery. The Sengles sleep in hammocks strung in tree tops and hunt, gather, or steal what they need to survive.

When her brother becomes sick and two other Sengles avoid leadership, Ice Cream determines to lead her tribe south to make war on Quantico, where the cure for this inescapable disease is rumored to be held.

Newman’s story is immersive. Small, deft descriptions of dew on the meadow grass, of everyday events, of Ice Cream’s emotions and of her intense feelings for her tribe quietly but vividly bring the world of this novel to life. Their world is complete and whole and understandable. And frightening.

It’s also a fascinating look at the evolution of language when spoken by groups of children – many words and word endings lost, meanings and sentence structure vastly altered, and seemingly random, higher-level vocabulary words maintained correctly in the language. This altering of the language, coherent and consistent throughout the book, may have been more work than plotting the story. It’s impressive.

Newman develops not only language but also unobtrusively fills her story with complex superstitions and morals and structures for each of the different cultures that populate this world.

Ice Cream Star is unique, her life harrowing, her story engrossing. To borrow from Newman’s language, Ice Cream Star be bellesse. Be bone.
Plenty bone.

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Profile Image for Maria.
290 reviews
March 22, 2015
Oh my goodness I REALLY LIKED THIS! An excellent dystopian novel; one of the best I have read in years (IMHO). Although it takes place with a mainly teenage cast, I wouldn't classify this as purely "young adult". It is quite mature in many of its themes; however, Newman pulls it off with a level of cohesion and sophistication that just floors me.

A word for the wary: this book needs some time to settle into. Newman's narration style reflects a metamorphosized English, addled by generations of children without a lot of formal education. It creates a strange and wonderful style that can be frustrating at times. Especially at the beginning, when every paragraph is a struggle, the book seems harder than it's worth. Please, please, please dear reader - push on. It does get easier, but more importantly the language and Ice Cream Star's narrative voice allows for some absolutely breathtaking prose. There were a few turns of phrase that will haunt me for a long time.

This is a really excellent read with a well developed cast of characters and an astonishingly creative premise. The end left me wondering if there will be a sequel - I certainly hope so.
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