Monday, 27 January 2014

The Great Ice Cream Heist, by Elen Caldecott

During the school holidays, Eva is talked into joining a local youth
project to refit and refurbish a new youth center.  Her dad and her gran want her to make new friends and mix with people her own age, convinced she has withdrawn since her mother died.  Reluctantly agreeing so that her dad doesn't worry about her, Eva agrees, but she isn't happy about it.  The first friend that Eva makes at the youth center, much to her family's dismay is Jamie McIntryre, the youngest child of the problem family that live next door to Eva and her dad. Escorted by Mel, his social worker, Jamie and his family are supposed to be nothing but trouble but he and Eva bond pretty quickly, and are friends within minutes.

When the new youth center is vandalised, everybody assumes it was Jamie and he is forced into care.  But where? With no way of getting in touch, Eva convinces her new friends that they must track him down and prove him innocent- she knows Jamie better than anyone and knows it's not him or his style.  At least she does now, now she's had time to think about it.  A few accidental kidnappings, daring burglaries and slightly destroyed parks later, the unlikely detective mission to find Jamie is on.

Though the plot is fairy small scale, it is fast paced and dramatic.  Just enough silliness to be appealing to 11 year olds, but still realistic enough to obviously be real life-the social workers and Police prove that much.  A really easy read, written in a style that's very accessible. Being a poor reader herself, Eva tends to keep her narratives short and sweet- she's not one for throwing in a lot of complicated language and tends to use a pretty understandable vocabulary.  There's a wonderfully silly tone throughout- Eva is really funny and warm and she just wants the people that she cares about to be okay.  She proves pretty conclusively that an overactive imagination, creativity and determination will go a long way and that standing up for your friends is important.

The Great Ice Cream Heist has some really strong, realistic characters throughout- in many cases the realism of the characters helps to reign in some of the more outrageous elements of the plot.  Eva's conflicted struggle between having fun and being guilty about putting herself in danger in the process comes through strongly- after all, her dad wants her to make friends, and isn't that what she's doing?  Eva is obviously clever (despite being practically illiterate,) she's brave and loyal throughout and struggles  with some of the decisions she makes.  She's also one of the only characters willing to give Jamie a chance.  Jamie himself is a well crafted character too, intelligent, sensitive and loyal, but anticipating the prejudice that he is almost always subjected to.  He's really quite a decent lad that wants to have fun and just be accepted for himself, rather than based on the notoriety of his family.  Their dynamic works well and the author does an excellent job of showing the strength of their unlikely friendship.

The story has a positive message about accepting people for who they are, not what they live like and about shunning prejudice and discrimination.  I think a lot of young readers would find something to relate to in this book- whether that' losing a parent; having poor literacy; being wrongly accused; being discriminated against or having a best friend that they'd do anything for.  A really enjoyable read with a silly, screwball plot and excellent characters that will appeal to both genders and probably quite a wide age range.

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