Guy Jones, The Ice Garden

Chicken House, 2018, ISBN 978-1-911490-04-3

Guy Jones's debut novel is unusual and special. Jess is allergic to the sun. Even a tiny exposure to it blisters her skin terribly. She can go out only if she is shrouded from head to foot, and even when she is at home the rooms have to be kept in semi-darkness when it is bright outside. Her sole daytime outings are for hospital visits, where the specialist treats her as a specimen of interest rather than a twelve year-old with feelings. School is an impossibility. She longs for normality, and she longs for friends.

By chance Jess comes across a boy called Davy in a hospital room. He is in a coma and totally unresponsive, but on successive hospital trips she tells him her stories and meets his sorrowful mother. Her relationship with her own funny and spirited mother is deeply loving, though at times she finds her protectiveness immensely frustrating. One night, to escape her claustrophobic existence for a short while, she secretly lets herself out of the house and walks to the park. To her astonishment she discovers a beautiful, magical garden made of ice. It is irresistible, and she returns night after night, despite the dangers and her sense of guilt. She meets a boy made of ice who shows her his ice realm, and she experiences friendship for the first time. But then Owen's garden starts to melt.

Is there some connection between this and Jess's sudden improvement, and what is the link between these and Davy in his coma? Jess faces conflicting loyalties and desperate choices that will profoundly affect both her and others.

The Ice Garden is a moving and gripping tale with an intriguing mix of fantasy and reality. The characters are compelling, and their relationships convincingly nuanced. Highly recommended.