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The Coldest Winter Ever (The Coldest Winter Ever, #1)
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Archive: Other Books > The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah / 5 stars

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message 1: by Meli (last edited Dec 09, 2018 07:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meli (melihooker) | 3168 comments The title of Sister Souljah's book, The Coldest Winter Ever, is a double entendre. It represents the trajectory of Winter Santiaga's life following her father's arrest for, well; "Everything. You name it... conspiracy, murder, weapons, money laundering, tax evasion..." And it also describes how Winter presents herself in the world; cold, hard, and calculating.

Brooklyn-born Winter is sixteen when her father is arrested and the pieces of her life, along with her 3 younger sisters and mother, start to fall like dominoes. At the novel's beginning her father is a Greek God like figure, mythical and all-powerful, but who eventually is made mortal again. If you've ever seen New Jack City or watched the series The Wire, or are familiar with the American gangster narrative it isn't hard to figure out what is going to happen to the family, but what keeps the reader enthralled is Winter's story and her outcome. Will she keep chasing money, fame, and community reverence? Will she discover her worth beyond her beauty and material possessions? Can she be saved from the pull of street life and easy money?

To every action there is a reaction. When it comes back to you, the depth of your tragedy will be even greater than the wrongs you perpetrated. - Sister Souljah

There are no definitive answers to those questions by the time the book ends. Instead, we have a gripping drama and, now almost 20 years since its initial publication, a nostalgic look back to life right at the turn of the 21st century when youth culture was characterized by decadent materialism, violence, and money-worshiping. (Has much changed?) Various references to hip hop / rap artists and fashions that distinguish that time are peppered throughout. If you were a teenager of the 90s you will likely recognize them and perhaps dredge up some memories of your own.

When the book was first published I was about Winter's age and the teenage me relates to her in a lot of ways. Raging hormones, selfishness, self-destructive behavior, dangerous choices. But mid-30s me isn't that girl anymore so I was often frustrated with Winter's choices. Still, I could not stop reading. The last 200 pages or so I was white-knuckling the book burning through the pages to see what happens next. Winter's voice reads like an authentic teenager of that time, of which Sister Souljah would have had ample sources to interpret into this novel as a Bronx native of a similar socioeconomic background.

The Coldest Winter Ever is an #ownvoices story before there were hashtags. Despite my best efforts to read more diversely, I'm not sure I would've come across this book if it wasn't on PBS's The Great American Read list, but it was a thrilling read, a surprisingly nostalgic trip down memory lane for a 90s kid, and a heartbreaking coming-of-age story.

I highly recommend for readers who enjoy family drama, an American gangster narrative, coming-of-age tales, or are looking for a complicated black female protagonist.


message 2: by Jgrace (new)

Jgrace | 2763 comments I did wonder why this book was on the PBS list. Now I know. Thanks for this review.


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