After completing the second edit of my novel, I decided to re-read the one novel that inspired me to be a novelist. I first read The Coldest Winter Ever while in high school and finished it in two days. And since I chose to re-read it again then blog about it right now, it’s obvious TCWE is a book I’ve never been able to forget.
The protagonist, Winter Santiaga, was a girl I felt I knew well. She lived next door and I rode the train with her to school, well sometimes because she was hardly ever in school because her parents were cool and mine weren’t. I didn’t grow up in the projects like Winter, I also didn’t sport diamond jewelry until my late 20s. But I could identify with this smart and cunning character and as a 30-something writer I realize why.
The Characters Were 3D in ‘The Coldest Winter Ever’
The first time I read The Coldest Winter Ever, I was a teen myself. If you’re unfamiliar with the novel, the story follows a 16 year old Winter who chronicles the rise and fall of a hood rich lifestyle.
Back when I read it, my priorities were non-existent. Meaning, I put value on insignificant things. So I admired Winter for her street smarts. I thought she was a bold and unapologetic character who was fearless and had an ego the size of the Empire State Building. She had a hunger for living and looking “good,” that was her motivation.
Re-reading the story now, I noticed that some of the traits I thought were strengths were actually her flaws.
The author, Sister Souljah who is also unapologetic with her thoughts, did an amazing job fleshing out the characters in The Coldest Winter Ever, especially the character of Winter Satiaga. I say amazing for lack of a better word because SS did the damn thing breathing life in each character…especially Midnight.
Now Midnight had the look of a warrior, the posture of a king, with the spirit of a panther. Midnight had a strong and powerful presence but doesn’t say much. Though we get a feel for who Midnight is and what he looks like, it’s his personality, the way he carries himself that made women fall in love with him at first read. He doesn’t boast, brag, flaunt, nothing. And he doesn’t thrive on the envy of others. There’s so much power in his silence that Winter is beside herself, confused, unsure how to deal with a man like him or get him to pay her any mind. He’s not like the other men Winter’s used to. He’s a challenge and he challenges the belief that all men think with their crotch.
The Character and Story Representations
What I didn’t realize as a teen reading The Coldest Winter Ever the first time were what the characters represented, their purpose to the story. When I tried to write my first novel at 19, I created characters just because. There was no substance, their actions had no meaning, they were just character names on a page.
Even in the title itself, SS gives hint to Winter’s personality. The girl is cold. She says she’s loyal but her actions say otherwise. Winter has this view of ghetto life that’s distorted. Her character represented young women with paper thin ambitions. She practically lives in a bubble living in the projects. She never has to want or need for anything because she has it all. What she loves about the ghetto is being above it. Winter likes having more than anyone around her, she likes to feel like a pampered princess with hood credentials.
Midnight represented what Winter’s father Ricky Santiaga could have become. Ricky made his money, left the hood, but didn’t leave the drug game. In the real world, drug dealers don’t retire in Florida. They either end up in jail or dead. But Ricky, from what I gathered, thought he was above the inevitable, like most drug dealers.
Mrs. Santiaga, Winter’s mother, was nameless throughout the novel. Literally, I don’t know what her name was and I figure it was because she didn’t have an identity. She stood for nothing real or concrete. She was superficial, labeling herself a “bad bitch” for making vanity a full-time profession. She was a weak putting up the façade she was a warrior. When everything came crumbling down so did she.
As I read through the pages of The Coldest Winter Ever for the second time in life, I turned the page in awe at Sister Souljah’s character development and the way she made the story flow.
This was one of the first urban fiction novels I’d ever read. The books before it had protagonists I couldn’t identify with and that I found to be too 2D. I connected so much with Winter’s character, when I got to the final page, I wondered for days how her story continued.
I recently downloaded A Deeper Love Inside, Winter’s younger sister’s story to my Kindle. The novel is said to be the sequel to the Coldest Winter Ever and will include Winter and Midnight so I’m looking forward to reading that and blogging about it.
Analyzing The Novel as a 30-something writer
At 30, re-reading The Coldest Winter Ever reminded me how important time, energy, and using your talents the right way really is. Winter was talented and could have honed her skills to start legitimate businesses. Instead she ran around looking for someone to take care of her like her father did. She was in love with the fast life, fixed on maintaining a kingdom her father built. The problem was her father’s castle was made out of sand and built on water.
As a writer, I learned that getting to know your characters before starting a story is essential. Understanding what makes them tick, what their strengths are, their flaws and how these things can motivate their decisions and move your story forward is the first focus and the foundation for every novel. I also learned that every bit counts and that trimming out unnecessary story points is what will keep a reader’s attention and make it easy for them to read until the end.
If you haven’t read The Coldest Winter Ever you need to get it like yesterday. And if you’re like me, who read the novel as a teen or when you were younger, I challenge you to revisit the story and see what takeaways you’ll get today. When you’re done, you’ll realize how much you’ve grown as a person and how much you thought you knew but really didn’t have a clue.