Book Review: The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent by Ann Jacobus
Eighteen-year-old Del is in a healthier place than she was a year and a half ago: She’s sober, getting treatment for her depression and anxiety, and volunteering at a suicide-prevention hotline. Her own suicide attempt is in the past, and living in San Francisco with her beloved aunt has helped her see a future for herself.
But when Aunt Fran is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Del’s equilibrium is shattered. She’s dedicated herself to saving every life she can, but she can’t save Fran. All she can do is help care for her aunt and try to prepare herself for the inevitable—while also dealing with a crush, her looming first semester at college, and her shifts at the crisis line.
After Aunt Fran asks for her help with a mind-boggling final request, Del must confront her own demons and rethink everything she thought she knew about life and death.
This was a really good but really rough read. And how could it not be? Del is an addict and a suicide attempt survivor. She works at a crisis hotline. Her beloved aunt, with whom she lives, is dying of cancer and eventually shares with Del that she would love to “advance the timeline” of her death and is interested in assisted suicide/death with dignity options. Del has worked HARD to stay alive and has dedicated her life now to helping others stay alive, so to hear this from Fran is devastating. How can she reconcile her aunt’s wish, and the very idea of assisted suicide, with her feelings about her own suicide attempt and the idea of suicide in general? That’s a lot to work out. And it’s not like this is all that Del has going on. She’s working hard to stay sober, which is challenging given the current upset happening in her life (and the temptation of her aunt’s many pain medications). Del is hoping to spend the summer hanging out with Nick, a longtime friend who is in town for the summer, but her feelings for him don’t seem to be reciprocated. Then there’s her work at the suicide prevention crisis line, a work that is probably unimaginable for most of us. Through it all she grapples with guilt and fear, and while she has great, supportive people in her life, they can’t really ease the burden of the monumental shifts taking place in her life.
It seems relatively unlikely that most readers will have read a book where one of the main threads of the plot is about death with dignity. It is, rather obviously, an extremely complicated issue to consider, especially for someone who needs to untangle the idea of it from the idea of “suicide” as we think of it. Del, whose mother long battled mental illness and died from it some years ago and whose father is largely absent, is really on her own in a lot of ways, despite sponsors and friends who help keep her in check. Though Del is truly in pain for so much of the book, this is a beautiful story of love, hope, and resilience. It’s an extremely thoughtful and moving examination of death that focuses on the honor of being with someone when they die. A complex read that isn’t easy but is worth it.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2023
Age Range: 13+
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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