Book Review: The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson.

Synopsis by Goodreads:

As teenagers Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate, the two seemingly glamorous teens were dubbed ‘The Ice Cream Girls’ by the press and were dealt with by the courts.

Years later, having led very different lives, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while married mother-of-two Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried – and if theirs is revealed, everything will become a living hell all over again…


No. of pages: 452 pages

Publisher: Sphere

Year: 2010

Setting: Brighton

Scanning through the book spines in the two bags that my friend prepared for me, I stumbled upon this also by Dorothy Koomson. I thought, “Wow, what a pretty book! Look at all the pastel colours on the front cover!” Well, I’d tell you not to be fooled by it. Because it is NOT what you think it’s about. It is NOT a sweet story. The story gets under your skin and makes you shiver in disgust at the idea of how much the two poor girls were manhandled by a man whom they looked up to and who should have been looking after them instead of taking advantage of them. There, I’ve said it.

Now let me tell you what it’s really all about.

About The Book

I’ll give you a fair warning. Remember when I said up there not to judge a book by its cover? Yes, really, don’t. Just because it looks pretty on the outside doesn’t mean it’s sweet and lovely on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, though. Whatever the case the book may be, it still is a rather captivating and inducing read.

The story of The Ice Cream Girls was told in two voices: 15-year old teenagers, Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe with each name on each chapter, intertwining one another. Both girls had fallen in love with their teacher Marcus Halnsley, who was a handsome and charming man. Little did the girls know that Marcus had a much darker and more sadistic side which he’d revealed to the girls once they were both smitten with him. One thing to remember though. Poppy and Serena were never friends. In fact, they hadn’t known either of them existed until he decided to introduce them to each other for his own devilish reasons. They had only been mere 15-year olds when they found themselves completely and utterly head over heels in love with Marcus, who had used his position and seniority to control, bully and manipulate them to do his bidding. He literally controlled their behaviours, thoughts and actions. He manipulated their feelings and emotions. He bullied and beat them up if he thought they were misbehaving. Despite the torture and the abuse, the two girls found it difficult to turn and walk away.

Until one night, they had enough and fought back. The consequences that followed were devastating. Being the only two witnesses to the tragic event, Poppy and Serena were arrested, charged and tried in court, and were vilified and scrutinised by the press and the public. A photograph of the girls were found, which had been taken and staged by Marcus before he died. The photograph showed them wearing tiny bikinis and eating ice cream, which led to society branding them as ‘The Ice Cream Girls’. A court session later and their lives took vastly different paths. Poppy Carlisle had been convicted of murder and sent to prison. Serena, however, had been found ‘not guilty’ and released to live her life. 20 years later, Poppy emerges from prison on parole and decides to set the record straight. She still believes that she’s innocent while Serena was the one with the murder charge on her head and was determined to make her confess. Serena, on the other hand, is not willing to set foot anywhere near her past and wants to let the past remain firmly that way, in the past.

Dorothy Koomson did a great job with the book. Having intertwined the chapters with each alternate one bearing Poppy’s or Serena’s name. It was a little challenging for me because I had to make sure I know what I was reading or I’d get confused over who’s done what. The book threw up some questions, thought, about their innocence and defence. I thought it was hard to believe that either girl had been a murderer although what they went through would be questionable to their actions. Perhaps the author hadn’t wanted to focus too much on the court and trial process; her direction was to tell a story on domestic violence, child abuse and emotional manipulation.

What I Thought

Despite all that, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. The plot draws you in from the very beginning and leaves you desperate to know what happened that fateful night and whether the killer would be revealed. It was a beautifully-written novel; part crime, part thriller, part romance (although the last bit is questionable – how could it be romance if the person whom you’re in love with turns out to be a sadistic monster who preys on the young and innocent for the sake of his pleasure?). The author was spot-on with her chilling tale of lost childhood, manipulation, brutality and betrayal. The story itself had been laden with tension right from the start and you fall for it, hook line and sinker!

The book got under my skin from the first chapter itself and I usually don’t stay up late trying to finish reading a book, but when I do, I make sure the following day is a public holiday. I finished it early this morning at 5:00am so I can be here to tell you all about it. It is, as I said, a painful story on domestic violence, child abuse and emotional manipulation at its best. Imagine you’re a teenager only to have your life torn apart and changed forever when you meet a man like Marcus Halnsley. Although in reality, relationships between teachers and students aren’t something new. But they do occur and when they do, they’re not a pretty sight. Imagine being physically, emotionally and mentally abused by someone whom you thought was supposed to protect you and take care of you! Instead, he grooms you to be what he wants to see and love; he takes advantage of your innocence; he forbids you to have a social life outside of your relationship with him. And when you decide to end the relationship, you know it won’t be easy. That was how it was for Poppy and Serena.

Things got tense and took a turn for the worse. When they realised what they have done, it was too late to take it back. If they had stayed, he would have survived. Yet, neither of them could bear to let him live for fear that he would then turn around and destroy their lives. But they wouldn’t have known that he would die under the hand of someone else. Someone near and dear to him. Someone much closer to him than the two girls ever were. For that, Poppy was misjudged, accused and wrongfully jailed for 20 years in prison while Serena never overcame the fear and anxiety caused unto her over the years.

What would YOU have done, if you were in either of the girl’s shoes?

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