I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Ice House by Monica Sherwood. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
So while I’ve been avoiding fiction books about pandemics like… well, like the plague (sorry), I thought I’d give this book a try, even though it deals with a global event that causes everyone to stay home and become rather isolated.
Basically, in The Ice House, an unprecedented snowfall across the entire world has changed life for everyone. Many people aren’t working, kids are going to school virtually, and so on. Louisa is tired of the stress and isolation, tired of being cut off from her friends. Then, when her downstairs neighbor has an ice-related accident that lands him in the hospital, Louisa bonds with his son Luke, who used to be her close friend. The two of them decide to build a house out of ice and snow, as a place to escape. But when they complete it, they find there is something magical about it, showing them visions of what might be the future whenever they’re inside it. So they give themselves a mission: to make the hopeful, better future they can see into a reality.
This is a really sweet story! It’s easy to sympathize with Louisa, considering we all know what it is to be in her shoes. She’s essentially living the lockdown life we all had to for a time in 2020, and which we’re all still living to an extent even today. But beyond that obvious reason to feel for her, Louisa is also a great, well-rounded character. She’s clever and imaginative, and I enjoyed seeing her interactions with her fellow students in Makers Club.
Luke is also a wonderful character, as are both their parents and Louisa’s brother. Their interactions are realistic and full of believable dialogue. I was especially moved by Louisa’s relationship with her mother, and the themes of grief and emotional support were explored.
The element of magic in this otherwise realistic story was fascinating, and I wish we’d delved a little deeper into that. However, the way the visions affected the real world—compelling the kids to take concrete steps to improve their situations—was well executed.
There are a lot of heavy themes and topics in this book: grief, the fallout when a parent is seriously injured and might not recover, isolation, climate change. However, none of it is presented in a way that feels overwhelming or hopeless, which I think is so important for a book like this, particularly one written for middle school kids. And there is enough humor and light scenes to compensate, so the emotions end up feeling balanced.
In the end, The Ice House is a heartfelt story, like a reflection of our own situation in the pandemic, but translated into a different scenario. The characters are wonderfully crafted, the themes are wisely woven into the plot, and the prose is great. I loved seeing a smart, driven young girl and a sweet boy seeking answers to seemingly impossible problems. The side characters were a delight, and though the ending is a little ambiguous, it is not without hope, and is certainly compelling. I really enjoyed this debut, and I’ll definitely look out for more of Sherwood’s work in the future!
The Ice House is now available!
Also, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and I hope everyone has a lovely rest of 2021!