The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Bibliographic Information: Souljah, S. (1999). The Coldest Winter Ever. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.  ISBN: 7671400799.  413 pages.

Plot Summary: Winter was living the life!  She lived with her mother, father and sisters in the projects in Brooklyn, but never wanted for anything.  Her father, the leader of a prominent drug dealing operation, spoiled her with fancy jewelry, clothes, and things.  The cold winter night she was born, he gave her a diamond ring.  Winter’s mother was beautiful and stylish and knew how to get what she wanted from her man.  Winter, was interested in boys, and she learned a lot from her mother about how the world worked.  Life was going along fine in Brooklyn when Winter’s father decided they should move to a large home in the suburbs.  Things changed for Winter in her 17th year.  She had a new school, which she went to only when she felt like it.  She missed her extended family and friends from the projects, and then things started to take a turn for the worse.  Can Winter survive the coldest Winter ever?  At what cost?

Critical Evaluation: Souljah captures the language and the feel of the streets in this honest and frank novel.  Winter minces no words when she speaks of her life and her desires, and Souljah does not hold back in her dramatic and sometimes shocking portrayal of Winter in this coming of age novel.  Souljah has a definite message in this book; she advocates self respect, respect for one’s body, one’s family, one’s community.  She wants young people to recognize the dangers of drugs and violence and stay away from them.  She packages her message in a story using language that many young people can relate to, the gritty vernacular of urban Brooklyn and beyond.  Those offended by expletives should stay away, but without the raw, real language this novel’s authenticity would be potentially suspect.  Throughout it all Souljah’s message, which she espouses both as an author and a real-life activist, remains strong and steady.  As evidence of its longevity and appeal, this book is on the ALA’s 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list.

Reader’s Annotation: Seventeen year old Winter lives a life of excess, thanks to the many material possessions provided to her by her father, a prominent drug dealer.  When her life gets turned upside down, Winter must figure out which direction to go.

Information about the Author: In addition to being an author, Sister Souljah is a hip hop artist, an activist, an educator, and a powerful speaker.  She grew up in the projects in Bronx, New York, and “is a fighter who came up from the bottom.”  Some credit Souljah with reviving the Urban Literature genre in 1999 with The Coldest Winter Ever, as the genre had been in some decline in the late 1980’s early 1990’s.  Some believe that hip hop music was becoming the expression of choice for urban youth, thus pushing urban fiction aside, but The Coldest Winter Ever has sold over a million copies all over the world and, though it is over 20 years old, is still being sold today.

Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Category: Issues: Social Concerns: Crime and Criminals

Topics Covered: Drug Use, Illegal Activities, Sexuality, Family, Incarceration, Violence, Socio-economic status, Friendship

Curriculum Ties: Health Education, Social Studies, English

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of Winter’s lavish lifestyle from the beginning of the book
  • Character analysis of Winter

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19

Challenge Issues: Sex, Drugs, Violence, Explicit Language.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? This book speaks to young people, and it speaks the language of young people.  The young people who hear their voices or lives reflected in The Coldest Winter Ever are underrepresented in novels.  A good collection includes a diversity of voices and perspectives for those reflected in a work and those learning a new perspective from a work.  This work is a classic in urban fiction, and is still very popular today.

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