Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent, by Ann Jacobus

Del suffers from anxiety and panic disorders, which she has in the past self-medicated with alcohol and narcotics.  A suicide attempt a year and a half ago brought her to live with her Aunt Fran, an art dealer in San Francisco.  Now in recovery, Del is planning to start school in the Fall, works on a suicide help line, and is excited that her high school crush Nick is coming to visit.

However, the panic attacks have not gone away and there is temptation everywhere for Del to relapse.  Nick is friendly, but he doesn't want to have anything to do with her because of all that baggage.  Helping suicidal people feels good, but it's challenging to Del and a failed rescue leaves her doubting her ability to do the work.  And then Aunt Fran starts showing signs of getting sick, which morphs into a terminal cancer diagnosis.

As Fran's condition declines, she decides to stop seeking treatment and starts hospice at home.  But it isn't enough.  Fran doesn't want to let the disease take its course and she asks Del to help her get to Oregon so she can get help in terminating her life on her own terms.  For Del, who has struggled so long with fighting her own suicidal impulses (as well as talking her callers out of them) she is reluctant to help her Aunt "speed up the process."

While plenty of YA novels use death as a dramatic device (dead mother, dying best friend, etc.), very few focus on the process of dying and hospice the way this novel does.  The book is well-researched and intelligently discusses the process of assisted suicide.  Moreover, the latter part of the book becomes a detailed catalog of the later stages of dying and it's quite eye-opening.  The story doesn't make for the cheeriest of reading but there's a raw honesty to the way the experience is portrayed and the impact on Del and her family and friends.  I feel that alone makes this a notable book.

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