Jess's imagination has always been her best friend. She's trained it to feel as real as it possibly can, especially in the stories she writes for Davie — the young boy in a coma who is her only friend. But nothing is as real as the world she'll find.
One night, tired of peeking at the other children beyond her curtained house, she sneaks out to explore the empty playground she's longed to visit. Beyond, she discovers a garden made entirely of ice. This is her place: a Narnia with flying elephant mice and ice apples with shining gold liquid inside.
But Jess soon discovers that she's not alone. And her presence there could be destroying its very existence.
I picked this book up to leaf through it when we first got it in at the library, and ended up reading it cover-to-cover in one sitting. Jess's worlds, both the everyday and the ice garden, are beautifully rendered, just detailed enough to give a clear picture while still allowing the reader's imagination to flesh the scenes out. The story captured my imagination immediately, and once begun I had to know how everything turned out.
While readers may find the idea of being allergic to the sun strange and intriguing, the concept of having no agency over one's own life is one most children can easily relate to. Readers of any age will cheer Jess on as she learns to assert her independence and make her wishes known, while still keeping the reality of her world and limitations in sight. Having to make difficult decisions and put others' needs in front of your own are an important coming of age topic, delivered here in a heart-wrenching but age-appropriate manner.
No one ever punches the doctor, though, which I found mildly disappointing.
***Note: I don't read other reviews of books until I have completed my thoughts, but I have to add something here. One popular review source criticized the fact that people of different races are described with only their physical characteristics. While this might well be a flaw in other books, to me it emphasizes Jess's seclusion. The only way she encounters people outside her family and hospital staff is by watching them from a window, so how else would she describe them? What else could she possibly know about people she has only seen, never spoken to or interacted with?