Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Coldest Winter Ever

The Coldest Winter Ever
Author: Sister Souljah
Pocket Star Books, 2006 (originally published 1999)
430 pages, plus 100+ pages of commentary

A couple of weeks ago while ordering coffee, I noticed that the barista was reading a new hardcover book by Sister Souljah and we got to talking about it. The barista was very enthusiastic about the new book (Midnight) because it was supposed to be the sequel to one of her favorite books of all time, The Coldest Winter Ever. Meanwhile, when I visited the library last weekend, I happened to see three brand-new paperback copies of The Coldest Winter Ever on the new arrivals shelf. I picked one up out of curiosity . . . and was immediately transported to the raw, urban world of Winter Santiaga.

Winter, so named because she was born in the middle of a January storm, is the oldest of four girls. Her father is a big-time drug dealer in Brooklyn and her mother, who was 14 when Winter was born, is a self-described "bad b*tch" whose primary focus is on looking good and spending money. The Santiaga family includes Winter's younger sisters - Porsche, Mercedes, and Lexus - and an extended circle of aunts, uncles, cousins, and others, most who have some role in the "family business." Winter's father is the clear leader, however, so she (and her mother and sisters) are treated like royalty by everyone in their community.

We follow Winter's life from the ages of thirteen to twenty-five in this book. She really is a spoiled princess, used to wearing expensive designer clothing and having everything she wants. Despite the type of work her father does, he is a very loving father and husband. So this is one thing I have to say I like about the book: it may have some stereotypical characters, but they do not always behave in the stereotypical manner. 

One day, quite out of the blue, Winter's father moves them to a new home - a mansion in the Long Island suburbs - and tells them under no circumstances to go back to Brooklyn. At first, Winter hates her new life and misses her friends and the city. She feels like a prisoner. But she soon gets used to the luxuries of affluent suburban living. Cash is everywhere and the family spends generously on cars, jewelry, furnishings for the house, and lavish parties. On weekends they "import" their family and friends from Brooklyn and it's like nothing has changed.

Suddenly, everything goes wrong. Winter's mother is shot in the face during a visit to Brooklyn. The disfigurement of this once-beautiful woman is the first in a series of really bad things that happen to her - and to the rest of the family. Winter's father is arrested, and everything the family "owns" is seized by the government. All those family members and "friends" who used to be so supportive scatter to the four winds. Winter's sisters are taken by Child Protective Services, and since she is underage (seventeen by now), they're looking for her, too. So Winter goes on the lam, fighting for survival.

Winter is physically attractive, and has no difficulty getting attention. Sexually active since the age of twelve, she has no inhibitions whatsoever and sees sex as one of the most powerful tools a woman possesses. (She has a lot of partners and speaks openly about her feelings and experiences, so if you don't like reading this type of stuff, you might not want to read this book.)

There is one man she cannot charm with her feminine wiles. His name is Midnight - a mysterious soldier in her father's army (and the main character in the recently-released book of the same name.) Try as she may, Winter cannot manipulate this man - he's not like any man she's ever met. For one thing, Midnight is fascinated by Sister Souljah (interesting that the author placed herself as a character in the book) and often listens to her on talk radio. Eventually Winter will meet up with Sister Souljah and even attend a few of her "Womanhood" meetings. But will they do any good? Will Winter get herself together, or is she destined for a life of crime and suffering? 

You will just have to read it to find out. The commentary at the end gives further insight into the characters and provides "the story behind the story" from the author's perspective. So be sure to get the 2006 version if you want to read that.

By the way, after finishing The Coldest Winter Ever, I got on to read the reviews of Midnight. Those reviews are mixed. It seems as if Midnight is not the sequel some people were expecting. Instead, it's more of a prequel, and Midnight is the only character in both books. Many readers are disappointed about this. Still, I think Midnight sounds interesting, so I will have to put it on my list of future reads.

Rating: 3.5 stars.