Back in 1999, I was an 18-year old nerd who spent way too much time reading.(Big surprise.) I was a soft, weak naive thing without an ounce of fight in me–but I hated this book and would have happily beat the brakes off of somebody like Winter Santiaga in real life.
The eponymous teenage protagonist of Sister Souljah’s hit urban lit novel is selfish, spoiled, mean, vain and materialistic. She’s a disloyal friend, a scammer, a hustler, a pathological liar. She brags about brand names and hairdos while death and chaos surround her. If Winter Santiaga was a real person, I’d have a hard time hiding my disgust.
And there lies the problem, really. The world has very little sympathy for Black girls to begin with, and while this book was meant as a moral fable, it does a better job of showing how society fails us. While Winter is an awful person, her sociopathy is not entirely her fault. Her drug kingpin father is arrested, her pampered world is dismantled and she does what she feels she has to do to survive using what she knows. Her beauty and ability to lie, steal and manipulate are her best bargaining chips–and that has awful consequences. If she was richer, whiter, more educated or connected to the right folks, it might not be that way.
So, reading this again 22 years later, I feel sorry for her, not judgmental. Winter is so unaware of how poor her choices are and has so little access to better ones that it’s hard to read some of her exploits. She’s abandoned by those around her–even the “good” guy, her father’s trusted lieutenant Midnight, treats her pretty badly. Social services, community figures and her friends all betray her horribly as well. Winter is awful, but what else can she be? What other choices are there for her, even decades later?
Winter as a character–all bad choices and obnoxious first person narration–makes this book train-wreck fascinating, but it isn’t very well-written. Souljah writes herself into the book as a main character and comes across as a bit of a magical hotep pick-me. This makes her portrayal of Winter seem ultimately more mean-spirited than cautionary. The book ends abruptly on an odd preachy note and there’s a lot of homophobia and ableism too–perhaps marginally acceptable at the time but very jarring to read now.
2 stars and 20/20 hindsight to The Coldest Winter Ever.
(Hindsight may be 20/20, but I didn’t like this book any more now than when I first read it, beautiful people. If you want to read it, find it and lots of other diverse books focused on diverse readers at the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Please remember that this blog has affiliate relationships and any clicks and purchases you make may result in a commission being earned. Peace! )
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