Cover of Cold Spell by Deb Vanasse. A girl's face looks down on a frozen landscape

About the Book

Title: Cold Spell
Published: 2014

Cover Story: Below that Ol’ White Mountain, Just a Little Southeast of Nome
Drinking Buddy: No Running Water
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Epic Beard
Talky Talk: Here’s the Story of a Lovely Lady, Who Was Bringing Up Two Very Lovely Girls
Bonus Factors: Alaska, Lolita Wanna Be
Bromance Status: That Dude I Knew That Summer I Worked in Valdez

Cover Story: Below that Ol’ White Mountain, Just a Little Southeast of Nome

Giant teen face, frozen expanses of the north. Could be worse.

The Deal:

When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s father abandoned her family, her mother took it hard. Ruth has become obsessed with a picture of an Alaskan glacier she cut out of a magazine. And one day, she meets Kenny, a man who lives right by the glacier. He’s only in town for a couple of months. He’s rugged and macho.

Sylvie puts up with her mother’s fling with annoyed teenage detachment. That is until Ruth drops the bombshell: she’s moving to Alaska to be with Kenny. And Sylvie and her younger sister Anna are coming along.

And Kenny doesn’t live in Anchorage or Fairbanks. He lives out in the bush, where you haul your own water and hunt bears for dinner. A far cry from their suburban Minnesota lives.

While ten-year-old Anna is up for the adventure, Sylvie wants nothing to do with her mother’s crazy schemes. But she has no choice. Sylvie’s going, whether she wants to or not. Northward, ho!

Drinking Buddy: No Running Water

Two pints of beer cheersing

While Ruth is in raptures about the idea of living at the foot of her glacier with a real mountain man, Sylvie is determined that this will not work. Not with huffy silences and snide comments (well, not just). Sylvie’s a devious little schemer.

Mom’s getting lonely while Kenny is out hunting? Sylvie gets a job in town that keeps her away from home most evenings.

Kenny’s mother is hyper-religious? Sylvie starts cultivating a reputation as a bad girl.

Kenny is spending all his time building an ATV, something Ruth can’t be a part of?

Why Kenny, I’ve always been interested in off-road vehicles. Can I help? No, we’re fine, Mom. Why don’t you go start dinner or something?

Hey, Sylvie didn’t ask to be here. Ruth started it. But Sylvie’s going to end it.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Epic Beard

Now Kenny is so macho the pages he appears in have hair on them. He hunts bear, builds things by hand, and feuds with the law enforcement. He loves the Alaskan wilderness, and is happy to share that with Ruth.

Ruth, on the other hand, has bitten off more than she can chew. It’s one thing to brag to the other ladies on the secretarial staff about how’s she’s going to live without running water. But when she realizes that means an outhouse and only showering every other day, it’s not so hot.

The cabin gets to her. Kenny’s been a bachelor so long, he’s fine with unfinished plywood countertops and a trash pit in the back yard. Ruth, however, finds the cabin depressing.

Yeah, the last guy who lived here died on the glacier. Smashed his plane right into it. That’s the propeller over there.

Plus her only social outlet is Kenny’s judgmental mother and her church group. Ruth is beginning to feel like she’s never going to fit in. And winter is coming…

Sylvie, on the other hand, is secretly making the most of Alaska. Hey, there’s only about a dozen teenagers in her new school, so the others court her friendship. Boyd, the lonely rebel, notices her. She gets a job waitressing and pulls in good money. All the while reminding her mother that she’s leaving as soon as she can.

Talky Talk: Here’s the Story of a Lovely Lady, Who Was Bringing Up Two Very Lovely Girls

The story alternates between Ruth and Sylvie’s points of view, which makes this not really a YA book.

I kept trying to bond with the characters, but I found all of them a little too unlikeable. Sylvie was devious and smart, but she bordered on too cruel. She was willing to use anyone: Kenny, her new friends, even Boyd, her new ‘boyfriend’, to get back home. And she smiles as she does it.

Ruth is too much of a simpering coward to bring me to her side. Kenny’s word is law, she bends over backward to impress her new church group, and while she did force Sylvie to come here, she pretty much lets her daughter do whatever she wants in the name of peace.

Kenny makes no concessions to his new ‘family.’ He just kind of assumes everyone will eventually see things his way.

Even Anna was an annoying goody two-shoes most of the time.

It’s rare that I actually root for family strife, but this book made me boo all instances of mother/daughter harmony.

Bonus Factor: Alaska

An Alaskan mountain range

The Katcher family just got back from two weeks in the 49th state, and wow, what a trip. Alaska’s a different world. It’s beautiful, but at the same time, it’s a place where if you fail to fill up your car, you could wind up stranded two hundred miles from nowhere. It’s either daylight or nighttime twenty hours a day. The mosquitos are the size of pennies. It’s nice to see a YA book set in an ignored part of the US.

Bonus Factor: Lolita

Movie poster for Lolita

Sylvie’s an attractive young woman. She uses it to her advantage. And not just with Boyd. She hits Ruth right where it hurts, implying that Kenny is more interested in the daughter than the mother (and maybe the daughter is more interested in Kenny than Boyd). To Sylvie, her sexuality is just another bargaining chip.

Until she pushes things too far…

Bromance Status: That Dude I Knew That Summer I Worked in Valdez

Okay, maybe I complained the whole time I was there, but we did have some good times. Not that I’ll ever be back.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy from the University of Alaska Press. No money exchanged hands, which is too bad, because it’s freakin’ expensive up there.


Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.