The nominal passenger of this tale dictates the pace and tells the story of their journey in a matter-of-fact voice coloured by her youth and her changing preconceptions. "The Ice Age" doesn't give much introduction to its main characters in terms of personal histories but starts with Gunther and his 17-year-old passenger already embarked on their meanderings. Gunther's past seeps out a little as he visits various old friends en route; the girl's remains sketchy. Gunther may be revisiting his youth, but the girl's interests lie in their ongoing present. Gunther is not the romantic vampire his passenger longs for him to be, and his hitchhiker is not the damsel in distress Gunther thinks she becomes soon after he has sex with her then tries to turn back from it. There are no dramatic upheavals at the loss of her virginity or her subsequent sexual experiences: this is a very modern girl growing, though unknowingly, into a strong woman. Gunther apparently experiences joy and guilt (and probably a few other assorted emotions) in his relationship with the girl, but filtered and muted through the girl's perceptions, you only get a sense of how much he might have felt through the extremity of his actions. Until then laconic, he tries more than once to escape what he can't cope with and leaves the girl searching almost blindly for answers.
Eventually, the girl takes over the driving wheel metaphorically and literally, and both she and Gunther have to let go of each other. At the end of their trip, she reaches New York, one feels, on the cusp of a whole lot of life ahead of her and finally looking forward as Gunther leaves her there to finish out the rest of his own and probably looking back.
"The Ice Age" does not appear to preach any message or try to plumb any emotional depths; it just tells the story of an innocent-wise teenager on a road trip with an older, cynical-wise man. Girl grows up on road trip, past catches up with man, both of them change and yet remain themselves. Maybe it's just a reflection on growing up and growing old. It isn't a story that has a resolution as such, and the ending is open. There's no huge, tormented break-up, no happy-ever-after wedding or even hook-up; the coach has reached its destination so the passenger's got out and the driver's driven off. Everyone gets on with their lives, the end.
Reed writes her teenage protagonist's character convincingly, portraying the angst and assurance born of adolescent naivete and hormones. She isn't necessarily sympathetic, but she is fascinating. There are enough echoes of anyone's and everyone's adolescence here. Maybe not everyone was this independent as a teenager, but the feelings of awkwardness (though that's minimal enough here), confusion, and being at the mercy of grown-ups will be familiar to anyone who was ever a teenager. This isn't my usual cup of tea, but it is well-written. I enjoyed reading it.