The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent
by Ann Jacobus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After a challenging journey, there was peace at the end.
Although Del, the young protagonist, travels a tough journey, there is ultimately peace and hope for all in The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent, the new contemporary young adult novel by Ann Jacobus. The book tackles some of the most difficult topics, too: suicide, alcoholism, and death, so ending up with such a compelling and satisfying story, the author has met and overcome some big challenges. This story is special.
Del, the eighteen-year-old main character, although doing better than she had been a year and a half earlier, is maintaining a fragile balance between recovery and relapse. She is beset with anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and the heavy, awkward baggage that comes from how people react to her past. It was eye-opening to realize how maintaining that balance was a constant battle for her, seeing her coping well one minute and then not the next.
Her Aunt Fran's terminal diagnosis is a tipping point for Del, who continues to grasp at cures long after her aunt has recognized the futility and decided on an altered path for her future. The story explores in depth through Fran and Del's ensuing experiences of the dying process: our modern removal or distancing from the process, attitudes, and physical stages. Fran's death is not done behind closed doors. Del, and subsequently the reader, is there for the pain, symptoms, and bodily changes. Fran's final weeks are assisted with hospice care, and how that works is part of the story.
Complicating matters are Del's relationships with the two men in her life: her father and her childhood friend, Nick. Her father had turned over his daughter to his sister and abdicated his presence as a parent through fear and grief. Del had also pinned some romantic hopes and dreams on Nick after a visit the previous year had ended with a kiss. She'd spent the time since obsessing over that single kiss and building it up in her mind, while Nick had not. The mismatch in expectations when he comes to nearby Berkley for a summer internship, makes for an awkward reunion and heartbreak for Del.
The audiobook, skillfully voiced by narrator Jen Zhao, imbues the work with the solid feel of reality. Jen became the voice of Del, and I felt like I was hearing the character herself pour out her heart and soul to me. Zhao alters her voice appropriately to distinguish the other characters from each other. I thought her performance enhanced an already great book.
I recommend THE COLDEST WINTER I EVER SPENT to readers of contemporary young adult fiction that includes serious topics such as suicide, death, and dying.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.