Audiobook Review: The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Ice Cream StarGenre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Science-Fantasy

Publisher: Ecco Press (February 10, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Tiara’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars


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Narrator: Lisa Reneé Pitts  | Length: 26 hrs and 38 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Blackstone Audio (June 16, 2015) | Whispersync Ready: No

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. You’d be amazed at how those languages can come together and create this interesting “new” language as in Newman’s book. I interact with people on a daily basis who speak these mashup of dialects. 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 reside 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.


12 Comments on “Audiobook Review: The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman”

    • It’s not so bad or it wasn’t so bad for me, and I don’t want it to seem that I’m implying that people wouldn’t grasp the language. The mention of my location was just to acknowledge that I do hear people talk like this quite frequently (because so many people are like, “Who would talk like this?” And I wanted to say, “Just follow me around on my job one day and you’d see where a patois like this could come from.”), but I did feel I had to be honest and say this is definitely one of those dialects that will drive you nuts or you’ll be awed by the flawed beauty in its storytelling. It’s different, very different. Sometimes that doesn’t translate well to others, especially listening to it actually spoken, which I could see someone who doesn’t speak English natively having a very difficult time with listening to that. Some will pick it up easy. That’s why I said, either you’ll get it or you won’t. And even if you get it, some people just find patois in general distracting, especially with this book’s density. While Pitts is an excellent narrator, I think this book is one of those that might make more sense for some by reading it rather than listening to it. Or reading and listening to it at the same time. There’s a wonderful story there and I hate that so many are giving up on it because of the patois.


  1. LOl at last I know that the audiobook isn’t for me if I want to try. Not sure I would understand everything in a book now either. I wonder about that. But in any case it sounds really different and interesting too.


    • Maybe, maybe not. You never know until you try it, if you decide to try it. It’s a great story, but as I said, I can’t recommend it for everyone.


  2. I actually like the sound of this – and I think I would enjoy the language issues – well, I’m saying that all confident like, I guess it could pull you out of the story – but no harm in trying right?
    Lynn 😀


    • I thought it was a really good book. As I said in another comment, I thought there was actually kind of a flawed beauty to it. It only kind of faltered in the middle for me, but then, ended in a way that left me thinking various things (in a good way). I had two other friends try it and both DNF’d it because of the patois. One liked the story and really wanted to know what happened, but she waited for me to finish and then asked me to give her the rest of the story. She couldn’t take the language. The other friend just disconnected from it completely. It pulled him way out of the experience. You’ll only know if you try it for sure. This is definitely one of those books I have to tell people to try for themselves and let them go from there.


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    • LOL. Happens to me all the time. ALL THE TIME. Well, hopefully, if you get around to it, you’ll enjoy it.


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