It’s summer, my favorite time of the year — especially this month because it’s National Ice Cream Month, and July 15th is officially National Ice Cream Day. So I thought I would highlight some YA fiction books that mention ice cream (or gelato).
That has turned out to be harder than I thought. There are plenty of fictional books out there about ice cream for kids, but few for teens. Although it’s on the young end of the teenaged-reading-spectrum, the 2010 middle grade book Rocky Road by Rose Kent is the only book I’ve found that focuses on ice cream as the plot. Twelve-year-old Tess is really upset at being uprooted from warm, sunny Texas to cold Schenectady, New York, by her bipolar mother who plans to use the last of their savings to open her dream business: an ice cream shop — despite the fact that most of the neighborhood businesses are closing due to the bad economy. This heartwarming book celebrates community and the resilience of the human spirit.
The book also includes ice cream recipes and a personality quiz “Ice Cream Flavors and the Inner You” at the end. The quiz is based on an ice cream flavorology study commissioned by Edy’s Grand Ice Cream and conducted by Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, a neurological director of the smell and taste treatment and research foundation in Chicago that revealed that distinct personalities correspond with ice cream flavors.
Another new book where ice cream is a part of the plot is Jo Knowles’s See You at Harry’s, a great book for younger teens. It’s a beautifully written and poignantly funny story of how all the members of a family are involved in running their family restaurant (Harry’s) until a tragedy pulls them apart. Each family member, particularly 12-year-old Fern, blames themselves for what has happened. With each others’ support, and the help of close friends, restaurant staff, and community, they start to heal and be a family again. I wouldn’t call it a beach read because there’s a lot of angst and heartbreak here as the characters deal with such issues as coming out, growing up, first love, and dealing with death, but in the end, it’s a hopeful book. And their restaurant has an ice cream counter and there are mouth-watering descriptions of ice creams sundaes mentioned throughout the book as well as one on the cover!
No self respecting book set in Italy should neglect to mention gelato, Italian ice cream. Sure enough, in the new YA book Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson, Violet, an English teen who takes a summer residential art and culture class in Tuscany, experiences it on her first night there. There’s nothing like real Italian gelato — nothing made in the US even comes close. Although what Violet actually ends up eating is lemon sorbet in real half-lemon shells — not as good, but still….
Maureen Johnson’s Girl at Sea is set in Italy, where Clio, 17, is stuck with her father on a yacht as part of a working vacation. She’d much rather be back at home at her dream job and possibly getting her first kiss. She and her father aren’t getting along very well, but her father thinks that ice cream can fix anything. They go out for gelato in Rome to a place that has an amazing variety of flavors. Clio gets a jasmine gelato cone, just because it sounds fragrant and strange.
Suzanne Harper’s book The Juliet Club features high school junior Kate, who wins an essay contest that sends her to Verona, Italy, to study Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” over the summer. She also meets both American and Italian students and learns not just about Shakespeare, but also about star-crossed lovers — and herself — and enjoys plenty of gelato as well.
Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, the sequel to Bad Kitty, is set in Venice, Italy, where 17-year-old Jasmine eats gelato every Wednesday at her favorite gelateria as she tries to solve the murder of a friend from her Italian class.
Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson features Jessa, who, with an iPod full of her favorite songs, sets out for Italy on a school spring trip in the wake of a painful breakup. But her ex-boyfriend is also along on the trip — with a new crush. So Jessa needs not just her music but the beautiful, transformative power of travel — and lots of gelato.
Jeffrey Ford’s adult book The Empire of Ice Cream is a collection of short stories with teen appeal. The title story features a man who has synesthesia, the phenomenon where a person can taste shapes, see the color of music, or hear numbers. Before his diagnosis, when he was a child, his parents treated him as if he were a mentally ill invalid, dragged him to a series of doctors, and kept him from making friends with kids his own age. After they learn what he has, they lose interest in him. Despite his sheltered life, he’s very talented and can play the piano like a prodigy and decides to devote his life to composing. When he first tastes coffee ice cream, his synesthesia shows him something far different from a shape or color or texture in the taste. Another story in the collection, “Botch Town,” is a coming of age story that includes a Mr. Softee ice cream truck.
Another adult book with teen appeal where ice cream plays a part is Sag Harbor by Colin Whitehead, which features Benji, a black teen in the 1980s who scoops ice cream at Jonni Waffle in the summer.
I had a great time searching for books that mentioned ice cream, gelato, or sorbet, even if I didn’t find that many. I really craved it as I was looking for book covers illustrated with ice cream. I did find plenty of quizzes featuring ice cream including an independent survey that Baskin Robbins did recently in honor of this year’s National Ice Cream Month.
One of the funniest findings from it is the fact that, “Regardless of the form in which it’s consumed, more than 25 percent of respondents said their children are either covered in ice cream or leave half of it on the floor while eating it, while 20 percent said their kids are ‘clean as a whistle’ while eating ice cream.”
So enjoy your ice cream this month, but be careful eating it — especially if you also happen to be reading about teens in books enjoying the delicious, creamy dairy treat at the same time.
— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker while eating cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream