Book Review: The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

When teenagers Poppy and Serena become embroiled in a situation that ends in the death of their teacher, they are the only witnesses. Poppy is convicted of the murder and sent to prison, while Serena moves on with her life and has a family of her own.

But twenty years later, Serena still hasn’t told her husband or family about her murky past. With Poppy due for release from prison and determined to clear her name, it looks like the past is finally about to catch up with her. But just what did happen all those years ago that resulted in the death of a man and the pair being dubbed the infamous ‘Ice Cream girls’?

I was really excited about this book. There was quite a buzz around the net about it and glowing reviews were popping up one after the other. So when my copy arrived I was keen to get started right away.

Perhaps because I had a lot going on when I started or perhaps because I was overly anticipating the book, I didn’t get into it straight away. It wasn’t that it was bad, far from it. I just wasn’t immediately hooked to the point I couldn’t put it down as I’d been hoping and read the first few chapters at a leisurely pace over a couple of nights. However as the story develops it drags you in slowly and subtly, so that by the time I was a third in I was engrossed and raced through the rest of the book.

The book begins with Serena, Doctors wife and mother of two, who at first appearances has a perfect life. However it quickly becomes apparent that she is harbouring a secret. The story then switches to Poppy, who is just being released from prison after 20 years and determined to prove her innocence. The link between the two is pointed out with Newspaper clippings from the time of the murder and sets the scene for an intriguing read, where you just have to discover what happens. I really enjoyed the first person narrative, which switches between Poppy and Serena throughout the book, as this gives a great insight into both the characters. I didn’t warm immediately to Serena, and perhaps that’s why I was slow getting into the book as she dominates to begin with, but the development of her character is fantastic. As layers of her past are stripped down and revealed, I began to understand her. Poppy appealed to me immediately as a character and I enjoyed her sections from the beginning.

What I particularly liked about the book was the way the reader is drip-fed the story of the girls past. Told by both characters in flashbacks, I loved how these little memories from each built into a whole story which becomes increasingly menacing as it goes along. In contrast to the pretty pastel cover, this is actually a very dark story with some disturbing themes at its core. However, Dorothy Koomson skilfully allows the girls situation to dawn on the reader without using a lot of graphic description. It comes more as a realisation, and I really appreciated this. I also found Poppy’s experiences in prison fascinating to read. They are written with great sympathy and understanding of how it is to loose your freedom. It’s often too easy to presume that prisoners ‘have it too easy’ but Koomson sheds a new insight onto the emotional damage caused by being incarcerated, particularly when a person may not deserve it.

By the time I was in the second half of this book, I really couldn’t put it down. I also couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. Throughout the entire book I didn’t know how it was going to end, or who had committed the murder. It isn’t revealed until the final couple of pages and at that point I had an ah-ha moment, it wasn’t at all as I expected although thinking back the hints were there. This is an absolute credit to Koomson that she can plant the seeds to the reader without giving the conclusion away until right at the end.

I’d absolutely recommend The Ice Cream Girls. It’s suspenseful, intriguing, emotional and above all a fascinating story. Perhaps the biggest accolade to this book is that even after finishing it, I am still thinking about the characters and care enough for them to hope their future is happy. A 5 star read.

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