Ann Jacobus handles difficult topics with delicate tact and realism.

Contemporary Fiction

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent 

Ann Jacobus 

Carolrhoda Lab® 

March 7, 2023  

ISBN-13: 978-1728423951; 352 pages 


Catching your breath and moving forward in the face of anxiety, depression, and overwhelming responsibility can take fortitude and self-forgiveness when you fall short. Handling all of life’s stressors can be hard, but eighteen-year-old Delilah Wilson carries an added weight of mental and emotional pressure during one summer in San Francisco.  


With eighteen months sober under her belt and a semicolon tattoo to remind her to continue living after a failed suicide attempt, Del lives with her Aunt Fran, who has been a safe harbor. But Fran is diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and Del is thrust into the role of her caregiver. As she tries to navigate this new normal, Del battles the temptation to take the edge off with drugs and alcohol. She is also stumbling through an uncertain relationship with Nick, a UT Austin student struggling with vision impairment. Del works at Bay Area Crisis Line, attends AA meetings, and watches her aunt die from metastatic cancer.  


The Golden Gate Bridge, where Del attempts her suicide before this story begins, offers incredible imagery. The tips of the big red bridge rise above the shroud of fog, beckoning tourists and commuters to cross and calling the desperate and depressed to greet the icy water below. The bridge can represent a channel between life and death as people willingly or reluctantly cross, or it can portray a link between the living and the dead, soaring above the noise and spreading its red gossamer threads that connect us all throughout time. 


Suicide and assisted death, drug and alcohol addiction, and the abject truth of hospice and caregiving are difficult topics to read and write about, but Ann Jacobus handles it all with delicate tact and realism. While these subjects often cast a pall over the reading experience, they can also be affirming and enlightening. Humans are strong and weak, and Del encompasses both across the pages of this distressing yet beautiful story. While Del falls, gets up, and falls again, she never gives up on herself, on her relationship with Nick, or on Aunt Fran. When Fran asks Del to help end her agony, Del understandably balks. The sanctity of life and death is a ubiquitous main character in The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent. Harold Lachance from Golden Gate Hospice gently articulates this sentiment by coordinating Fran’s care, patiently guiding Del through the reality of hospice and assuring her of the reward and honor among the anger and grief. 


While The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent has a definite downbeat, it does weave in elements of hope for readers needing a break from the story’s sharp edges. Through such an emotional and challenging summer, Del’s budding love for herself and others rises high above the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, inviting her simply to overcome and find the strength to continue.  

Ann Jacobus writes young adult novels, as well as fiction for younger readers, essays, and the occasional poem. She has an MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned a BA from Dartmouth College. A former suicide crisis-line counselor, she's a mental health advocate and likes to shout out books for younger readers that deal well with the subject of mental illness. When not reading or writing, she binge-watches TV series, swims, and sails. She divides her time between California and Massachusetts.