(2 customer reviews)
Publication Date: 28 Nov 2021
Categories: ContemporaryISBN: 9781913913687
Two forcibly segregated, separate sex, and rurally isolated schools are inhabited by malevolent masters, petrified pupils, more-kindly matrons, and a handful of true heroes – including The Ice Cream Terrorist.
This titanic tale of redemption shows how pupils and staff – blighted by dysfunctional, post-war, orphanage schools in Britain – escape and reform the brutal system.
Join their journey through school suffering, then on a road trip to a coastal idyll full of kindness, safety, and real-life skills, and eventually different lives. Free from oppression with more enlightened care, they create progressive futures.
Mike Leaver’s epic saga spans two decades, England and Wales, and many major themes of 20th century life – such as homelessness, rebelliousness, lesbian love, and loyalty.
Mike is really experienced at escaping from State boarding school, and so aspects of his personal life feature – and are sometimes exaggerated – in the travails and adventures of his larger-than-life, fictional pupils!
Mike Leaver is a semi-retired, handyman aged 68. He lives in a converted, static 10-ton truck on a small-town business park in Snowdonia – and writes books for pleasure. Mike’s immobile home has no electricity, mains water or central heating. As well as writing his first two novels – largely on a laptop by candlelight in his truck – he is penning his life story. Like Alan Bennett’s eccentric The Lady in The Van, Mike has become a well-known character around his adopted home of Porthmadog.
Mike Leaver - 11 Mar, 2022
Reviewed by Sheila Chalmers, former local WI chair, November 2021
This novel is a tour de force as it follows the lives and experiences of a varied group of pupils growing up in state school orphanages, the staff there, and then the real people they encounter in the outside world.
We first meet the pupils at a formative period in their lives, when they are trapped in oppressive institutions, separated from reality, segregated by gender, and under the 'care' and influence of misguided, and often sadistic, adults.
Mike meticulously charts the journey of this group of characters through two decades in England and Wales, describing the people they meet, the places they travel to, and the development of their personalities. He portrays how they break away from their early negative experiences in an attempt to find a better life.
This is a hard and uncompromising read. It confronts us with such themes as coercive control, educational oppression, sexual exploitation, homelessness, and alternative forms of love.
Some incidents Mike describes, left me wondering if such events could ever really have happened. Horrific as they seem, however, it is impossible to avoid smiling wryly at the way the orphan pupils are used as slave labour, disguised as 'education' and 'work experience'.
A large cast of characters is sometimes hard to keep track of. This was particularly so because I only gradually realised that the main 'Ice Cream Terrorist' protagonist is an orphan girl called Cynthia, just as she begins manipulating everyone to begin interacting with each other. The more extreme of Mike's characters stretch credulity to the limit, and become caricatures, but they remain believable in the general context of often bizarre events.
Contrary to the book cover's description of 'an orphan girl's fight for family, freedom and a knickerbocker glory', it is about so much more. With shades of Charles Dickens' novels or the true 'Empty Cradles/Oranges & Sunshine' story (of orphans disappeared to Australia), it references a great many social issues.
Mike necessarily uses a style of narrative and language which reflects these issues. Through this, however, characters do emerge who illustrate that life can be good, people can be kind, and it is possible to survive a cruel and deprived childhood to later experience success and happiness.
This novel ends in a spirit of hope and optimism – which is helped by a visit to an ice cream parlour – and proves the “dream of a safe environment where young people can develop healthy minds” is possible.
In summary, it is a heart-warming yet far more challenging read than Mike's first and much shorter novel 'Nork from Nowhere'. However, it is equally enjoyable and well worth the time invested.
* Sheila has been an avid reader since childhood and progressed to a degree in English and Education. A career in Early Years teaching followed, nurturing children's literary skills and love of story telling. She later moved to North Wales in pursuit of other interests, and was a Women's Institute officer in various roles for many years.
Mike Leaver - 11 Mar, 2022
Catherine Morgan, is a 35-year-old mother of two from Dolgellau, North Wales. As a History graduate who works in hospitality, she is an avid reader of a wide range of books, mainly fantasy and dystopian novels. . .
The Ice Cream Terrorist is a complex story with interesting and quirky characters. Spanning at least two decades, the story is about two orphanage schools and the struggles both of the orphans and the staff, many of whom seem to have some dysfunctional behaviours.
After a slow start setting the scene and introducing some main characters, the pace picks up and becomes more interesting with a great many twists. This story covers many themes, from neglect, abuse and rape, to triumph, joy and fulfilment.
It really begins when David escapes from the boy’s orphanage, where the pupils are taught that girls are the enemy and not to be trusted. He finds himself in the girl’s orphanage, surrounded by the dreaded creatures who, to be fair, do treat him poorly. David makes his daring escape with one of the girls on his tail and goes on the run to find a place for himself.
Meanwhile, in both orphanages there are new challenges, where the pupils have to make their own way to try to create a better future for themselves. Things get worse though, before they get better, with zealous and idolatrous nuns making life even more difficult for the orphans.
One of the main characters, Cynthia, plans to help free all of the orphans from their miserable existence. She manages to make a better life for herself and then to help improve the lot everyone else too. With a few devious plots, explosive events, and comedic episodes, the orphans and staff do discover a new and more progressive way to live.
Overall, I found the book to be quite a different and interesting read to my normal fare. It has a great level of description which allows you to visualise the setting. I enjoyed most of the themes explored in the book, except, for example, how the girls are portrayed in the beginning.
But the plot then develops well regarding the image of girls and women, as you learn more about their backgrounds and aspirations. Also, with the change of attitude to something far more positive in some of the main characters, it becomes a fairly good read – especially considering this is women's modern fiction created and written by a pensioner handyman.