What to Read in 2021

This month I chose The Coldest Winter Ever: A Novel by Sister Souljah as my What To Read.

As a reminder, my reading plan for 2021 is to sample a book from each Women’s Fiction sub-genre and see if they match the overall expectations for Women’s Fiction. You can read more about the plan here.

February’s Pick:

The Coldest Winter Ever: A Novel was #1 on Amazon’s Black & African American Women’s Fiction chart in January. February is Black History Month so I thought it made sense to select this title.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make it through the entire book. My eReader says I’m at 20%. I’ll explain more about why I didn’t finish the book in a bit, but first a little about the book.

Book Description from Amazon:

I came busting into the world during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, so my mother named me Winter. 

Ghetto-born, Winter is the young, wealthy daughter of a prominent Brooklyn drug-dealing family. Quick-witted, sexy, and business-minded, she knows and loves the streets like the curves of her own body. But when a cold Winter wind blows her life in a direction she doesn’t want to go, her street smarts and seductive skills are put to the test of a lifetime. Unwilling to lose, this ghetto girl will do anything to stay on top.

My take:

The premise of the book is interesting and straightforward. It is a coming of age story of a girl who has been given everything she ever wanted until her family loses its status. The concept is good. Winter, a teenager girl in Brooklyn, is strong and fearless and stands up for what she wants. Lots of obstacles are thrown in her way and her intelligence and reliance move the action forward. And action there is. Drug deals. Teenage parties. Mothers getting shot. The part of the story that I read was well structured and engaging and did keep my interest.

The problem for me was twofold. First, I didn’t like Winter, the main character. I didn’t empathize with her. She was so strong and sure of herself and displayed no understanding that she might be behaving in a selfish and self-destructive way. Don’t get me wrong. Characters need to be flawed so that they can develop in a story. Winter is definitely flawed. But by the seventh chapter, there was no sign that Winter understood her part in the problems that were happening around her.

The second thing I realized as I read the story is this is a gritty, realistic tale. It might be a cautionary tale – I don’t know because I didn’t finish it. If that’s the case, it is my loss for not continuing to read. But for whatever reason, I was struck by the feeling that I knew how this was going to end and I didn’t need to spend any more time reading a book with a sad ending that features characters I didn’t like.

When I read, I like to know that the characters I’m engaging with are going to have a better ending than when they started. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I’d like to see them grow and change and become a better version of themselves. Perhaps, Winter does this later in the book, but I got bogged down in all the negativity of Winter and her friends that I couldn’t stick around long enough to finish.

I don’t think the negativity shown in the story is a bad thing, though. It illustrates what the world is really like, which needs to be done. Sticking your head in the sand because you don’t like something isn’t smart. But making yourself read a book that doesn’t speak to you isn’t much better.

This book has about 7800 reviews with 90% of them five star. Souljah hit some tough topics head on and wrote from her heart, that’s for sure. It didn’t click for me, though. I think that’s okay because that’s why there are so many books available in so many different genres and subgenres. I will definitely read more in the Black & African American Women’s Fiction category, but I will make sure that I align my interests with what the book has to offer. That, I think is fair!

Souljah has a new book, Life After Death: A Novel (The Coldest Winter Ever Book 2) coming out in March 2021. It is the sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever, Life After Death.

Until next time…

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash