In Review: The Ice Garden

This is an emotional, fun, and recommended read.

The Ice Garden by Guy Jones

Published by Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic, January 29, 2019. Hardcover of 272 pages at $17.99. E-Book available for $10.99 and Audiobook for $24.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

NOTE: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: The jacket art is by Helen Crawford-White with the jacket design by Shivana Sookdeo. Emerging from the bottom center of this frontpiece is a large white-blue vine. Its offshoots sprout smaller vines that circle about on themselves. At the top is a crescent moon in the upper left, the book’s title is in the top right, below this is a girl in a big hat touching one of the berries that has sprouted, in the lower left is a figure in a bed, and in the bottom right is the author’s name. Small stars punctuate parts of this illustration. This is a very thematic cover that teases elements of the story without spoiling anything. I love when covers create curiosity rather than spoiling parts of the story. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Jess is allergic to the sun. She longs to be like normal children, to have friends whom she can play outdoors with. But her days are split between tutors and doctor’s appointments. One night, she sneaks out. And there, just beyond the empty playground she’s longed to visit, she discovers a beautiful impossibility — a magical garden made completely out of ice. A place that shields the sun and allows her to be free. But the sun isn’t the only thing to fear. The Ice Garden is an absorbing debut about the transformation of fear and loneliness through a bit of resilience and the healing power of friendships.” I’m hoping this isn’t a maudlin book because that’s what this sounds like. The last sentence comes off as very preachy. Overall grade: C

The characters: Jessica is a young girl who burns when sunlight touches her skin; so much so that it’s assumed that the sun could kill her if exposed for too long. When she has to venture outside she must wear clothing that covers every inch of her skin, goggles, and a large hat. It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable. She longs to be normal and has come to the age where she wants to make decisions on her own. Once she’s in the magical world of the Ice Garden she no longer needs to cover her body and she feels free. Her desire for a friend is painfully felt by the reader. Jessica’s mother is exactly how one would expect her to be: a concerned helicopter mom who wants her baby safe, but realizes she’s no longer a baby. Dr. Stannard is Jessica’s physician who makes fleeting appearances and uses an annoying nickname for Jessica’s mother which will instantly make him disliked by the reader. Without spoiling things, Davey is a key character whom Jessica encounters by chance. His state inspires actions from Jessica that had me tearing up each time she saw him. Owen is the only other person in the Ice Garden. He’s a mystery boy who is capable of many magical things in this location. He and Jessica become friends until he does something that changes their dynamic. He was a great character and each time he appeared I was caught up in him and his responses. These characters are familiar, yet fresh. I was pulled into their conflicts and was touched by their endings. Overall grade: A

The settings: The real world focuses on Jessica and her mother’s home, the hospital, and the playground. All were believable and could easily be pictured by readers of all ages. The Ice Garden is the wonderland one expects it to be, however Jones doesn’t just focus on the magical elements of this setting; he also includes a frightening bridge and some ominous woods, which Owen has never journeyed to. By including these locations the Ice Garden expands from a simple, predictable playground to a vaster space that could contain hidden threats. Overall grade: A

The action: There are several different types of action: Jessica versus the sun, Jessica getting caught doing several deeds, what exists in the Ice Garden, Owen’s origin, and what Owen does for Jessica. I’m trying to be as vague as possible, but there is a building sense of tension in the final act, in two worlds, and readers will be rapidly going through the pages to see what happens next. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: Chapter 27 made me tear up. The chapters that follow, working like an epilogue, are what the reader wants to have occur. I ended this book with a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart. How could you not want that at the close of a book? Overall grade: A+

The final line: The unexpected directions of this book separate it from other books for young readers. Jessica is an engaging lead that anyone who ever wanted to have a friend can relate to and where she goes is the sanctuary every child wants to have as their own. The message of friendship and growing up is strong and one that everyone needs to read. This is an emotional, fun, and recommended read. Overall read: A

To order a print copy of this book go to https://shop.scholastic.com/parent-ecommerce/search-results.html?search=1&prefilter=&text=Ice%20Garden

To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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