Thursday, June 12, 2008

Review: The Ice-Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield

Jenny Mounfield is fairly new to children’s and young adult fiction. The Ice-Cream Man (Ford Street) is only her third novel, though she also has a short story in Ford Street’s recent YA anthology Trust Me!. So far, she’s doing well.

The Ice-Cream Man
is a thriller. The book suggests that it’s really not a good idea to play silly jokes on people, especially those you don’t know well. At the same time, it features a protagonist with cerebral palsy, who regards his wheelchair as a tool of independence and has no intention of swapping it for a walker, as his well-meaning parents want him to do. In fact, his friends can hardly keep up with him.

When Marty, Rick and Aaron miss the ice-cream van one hot summer day, they show their annoyance by harassing the driver as the van drives on down the streets of their small town.

Big mistake.

This is a small town, after all. People know each other. Someone knows who they are and where they live. Someone even knows the number of Marty’s new mobile phone, bought by his overanxious parents to make him reachable, since he won’t give up the wheelchair. And he hasn’t told anyone yet!

Aaron has his own problems with a bullying stepbrother. Rick’s problems are even worse. Dad has died recently and his mother has hit the bottle and the sleeping pills. The last thing he needs is to hear the music of an ice-cream van parked outside his home after midnight.

The police aren’t helpful, either, with no details of the stalker or the caller.

When Rick disappears, apparently kidnapped, it’s up to Marty and Aaron to find him -- but that means entering the ice-cream man’s lair...

The Ice-Cream Man is a great introduction to the thriller genre for children in early secondary or late primary school. It shows a fairly positive image of a disabled person, without preaching. Marty is in a wheelchair. It matters to his parents, but otherwise he just gets on with life. In fact, there are some things he can do in the chair that he couldn’t do on foot.

It might have worked better with a photographic cover than the cover illustration of an ice-cream van, though the back cover is a little scarier.

In my opinion, this book is, so far, the best novel published by new Australian children’s and young adult publisher Ford Street Publishing.

Jenny Mounfield, I believe, has a bright future writing for young people.

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