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by Sandra Newman

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222709-6
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

A lesson from Thunderdome: Let there be no post-apocalyptic future without its mangled pidgin.

Lifting a page from Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, with which it shares numerous similarities, Newman’s (The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, 2003, etc.) novel lands us in a decidedly unpretty near future. Its protagonist is a young woman named Ice Cream Fifteen Star, a member of a gang-cum-dynasty that migrated north from the “Chespea Water” into New England long ago but that now begins to form designs on its former stomping ground. The young folk of Ice Cream Fifteen Star’s world are tough: “We flee like dragonfly over water,” she tells us, “we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.” They’re also susceptible to the reaper, who thins their number with a mysterious plague whose cure may just lie down south. The ones who survive the odds, in the social Darwinist world to come, are rather splendid, though: “Simón a child of middling height, with handsome looks of houndish sort. Bear himself peculiar straight, like all his muscles fix with hardness. Now he look tired rough, his face be scurfy with unsleep. Can see his age upon—is twentyish in heaviness.” Newman’s story is inventive, her characters memorable, but her novel labors under the terrific weight of having to carry out that lingo of the future over nearly 600 pages and not drive the reader mad, in which she is only partly successful. (The passages in which more or less standard English figures stand out for their strangeness.) The other problem is a rather lax storyline; by the time the children arrive at their Planet of the Apes–ish destination (“Ya, be Arlington Cemetery, where all ancient soldiers bury, when it been America”), there’s not much steam left.

Praiseworthy for its solid efforts at worldbuilding but too long and diffuse to add much to the civilization-gone-awry library.