>> Friday, April 02, 2010
TITLE: The Ice Cream Girls
AUTHOR: Dorothy Koomson
SETTING: Contemporary England
REASON FOR READING: I've loved everything I've read by Koomson.
At only eighteen years of age, Poppy and Serena were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate and scrutiny, the two glamorous teens were dubbed 'The Ice Cream Girls' by the press and forced to go their separate ways and to lead very different lives. Twenty years later, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while married mother-of-two Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried - and if theirs is revealed, their lives will start to unravel all over again ...Gripping, thought-provoking and heart-warming, The Ice Cream Girls will make you wonder if you can ever truly know the people you love.I hated it. There, I've said it. I didn't want to hate it. I didn't expect to, either. I have loved all the Koomsons I read before, even the ones with not-so-happy endings, so I was anticipating this one very much. Unfortunately, I was badly disappointed.
Yes, it's a well-written book, just as I'd expect from Koomson, with well-drawn characters and a structure that was excellently done. I can't fault it on technical grounds. I just didn't get the slightest enjoyment out of it.
Very short description, because this is a book where things are revealed very slowly and gradually: it's about two young girls who were drawn into an abusive relationship with one of their teachers. This ended with the teacher dead, and a great big trial, after which one of the girls, Poppy, went to prison and the other, Serena, went free. Some 20 years later, Poppy has been released and wants to clear her name. One of the first things she does is to contact Serena, who's now happily married with two beautiful children and is devastated to see the painful past come to life again.
The whole book was disturbing and painful to read. I especially hated reading the flashback scenes when the girls were still with Marcus. Apart from the fact that the two poor girls were stuck in a miserable, horrible situation, and it obviously wasn't easy to read about them being abused, reading these bits sparked a side of me that I'm not proud of at all. I understand intellectually all the reasons why a woman might stick with her abuser and not fight back. I especially understand it when the abuse has gone on since the woman is a very young, sheltered girl and the abuse started obscenely early. But there's still a part of me that rebels against this understanding and wanted to shake the poor girls until they saw sense and actually did something about their abuse. This frustration and the feeling that I was somehow blaming the victims, who really didn't deserve it, didn't make me enjoy the book any better.
Still, even though I was finding the book painful and uncomfortable, I kept turning the pages because a) I expected the payoff to be worth it, and b) I wanted to know what would happen.
So, emotional payoff? There was none. None at all. All I felt when I closed the book was anger and frustration at the injustice of the situation. Poppy has lost 20 years of her life and will have to live the rest of it as an ex-con, having lost any chance at a good relationship with her parents and knowing that anyone, at any moment, can recognise her and viciously turn on her. Serena is stuck [spoiler]loving a guy who's such a prince that he'll turn around on a dime and scream "murderer" at the woman he supposedly loves.[/spoiler] And just as Poppy, there's always going to be the threat of someone recognising her hanging over her head. How is this a good ending? I don't require a happy one, or even a hopeful one, but if I'm getting an unhappy ending, at least I want to close the book feeling like there was a point to it. Here, there wasn't.
As for my wanting to know what would happen, what did was a bit of a dud, too. It was soon pretty obvious who had to have done the killing, so no surprises there, and what happened was very unsatisfying. It ties in with the lack of emotional payoff, really.
MY GRADE: I want to emphasise here that when I grade a book, my grade represents only my enjoyment of it, and not necessarily its technical quality (although a lack of technical quality will most times affect my enjoyment, of course). So I'm rating this a D, even though as I mentioned earlier, this is a well-written book.