The Ice Cream Theory is based on a hypothesis that has been in Deschenes’ conscientiousness for the majority of her life: namely, every relationship she has can be represented through a particular ice cream flavor. Every chapter focuses on a flavor, a person in her life and how the first is personified in the latter.
Deschenes makes sure to explain that the book is not there to provide a chart of ice cream flavors and what they mean. These are the themes from her life, but they are not cookie-cut for everyone. What a flavor means to one reader is probably very different from what it means to her or any other person. For example, she hates vanilla and connects it to someone bland and boring. But that doesn’t means vanilla represents boring to everyone. It is less a self-help book than a memoir that happens to have a theory on life as its heartbeat.
About a third of the book is an exploration into ice cream in the most literal sense. Deschenes explores a variety of flavors (some she loves, some she fell out of love with and some she never liked at all). Her close-to-obsession for the treat is woven throughout all the stories and you get the feeling all the people she writes about have heard her talking about her ice cream addiction. Even when I completely disagreed with her on her favorite and least favorite flavors (she doesn’t like nuts in her ice cream, which I find to be a minor crime against humanity), her enthusiasm is infectious and any foodie will love this aspect of the book.
A majority of the book is about her experiences throughout life and I must give her props on her unyielding honesty. Even sensitive issues (like her parents’ divorce and her struggles to be close to others) are explored in the pages of The Ice Cream Theory. Many chapters (especially toward the end) deal with her romances and she is especially candid in these parts. You have to admire a woman who not only tells you when a relationship’s decline was her fault, but tells you about multiple situations where it was her fault. She owns her mistakes, a trait rarely found in authors. These moments of humility and vulnerability were when I felt most engaged with the book.
If there is any fault to the book, it’s the abundance of flowery language. To use Steff’s own approach, it reminded me of double chocolate chip fudge ice cream. It definitely has a ton of flavor and is certainly enjoyable, but can overpower your taste buds if you take in too much at a time. Still, with such a intimate point of view, bombarding and overwhelming is still better than matter-of-fact and dry.
While the chapters can be considered small vignettes, I would highly suggest reading them in order. Each story adds to the other and when you get to Chapter 21 (not the last, but easily the most engrossing and emotional), the whole theory itself comes together in a really beautiful way.
Something very important to understand about The Ice Cream Theory is that it doesn’t promise (or even suggest) that this will work for everyone. While reading, I started to see if I could link ice cream to people and struggled. I started realizing that I don’t eat too much variety in my ice cream and that made it hard to pair people with flavors. I go for the basics (vanilla and chocolate), and I have a few fancier favorites (i.e. Cherry Garcia, Butter Pecan and Mint Chocolate Chip). While I’ll try almost any kind offered to me, if I am choosing, I don’t deviate very often from about 8 or so flavors. I then realized that I do the same thing to people. If introduced to someone, I will be very social and engaging, but when it comes to making close friends (and keeping them), I shut myself away a little more than I like to admit. I stick to what is safe and, like the flavors I’ve passed on, have probably lost opportunities for wonderful relationships. I might not have applied her theory directly, but in the process of writing this review, I sure did learn something about myself.
I’m guessing you will, too.