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The Warmest December by Bernice L. McFadden
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The Warmest December (edition 2012)

by Bernice L. McFadden, James Frey (Foreword)

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1543377,562 (3.99)9
sherylcalmes's review
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I loved this book. I got so caught up in her story that I did not want to put the book down. It makes your cringe and want to cry but it was a very touching story. It is a story of alcoholism and abuse that shows how it effects an entire family for generations. ( )
  sherylcalmes | Apr 26, 2012 |
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had a hard time reading this book as I felt like Ms. McFadden had not only lived my life but now she was is in my head listening to my thoughts. Our situations are so similar, the main difference being that my father is not yet confined to a hospital,though it wont be long.
This is a very good book even though I had to take it slow. The writing is superb!
I really appreciate the opportunity to have read this. Thank You. ( )
  Fibers | Feb 25, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
For someone who loves Toni Morrison, I have to say this book suffers by comparison. Like many of Morrison's protagonists, Kenzie is a victim--here, of the abuse from her alcoholic father. As she sits by his bedside as he is dying, she relives many of the incidents of abuse which caused her to hate him and turned her into an alcoholic as well. Somehow, however, I never really felt that I knew much about Kenzie except for her reaction to the abuse. This was a painful book to read, but for me it offered little to compensate for the brutality. ( )
  mexicangerry | Nov 10, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've actually read this book a few times. It's a sad story but the author has a writing style that makes the characters flow through the story. I'd recommend it to anyone who has come from a dysfunctional family and liked to see someone's else story. Although it's fiction, many families are indeed affected by alcoholism. ( )
  haidadareads | Nov 7, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Kenzie spent her childhood in a war zone fueled by alcohol. Raised by an abusive father and a mother who gave up long ago, she and her brother Malcolm just tried to survive their childhood.

This is one of those books that begins at the end, and then is filled with flashbacks. It is a daughter, all grown up now, sitting by the bedside of her dying father, coming to terms with their past. Struggling with her own demons, she is forced to face the fact that her father had demons of his own, and to try to learn forgiveness.

This book had some very intense moments, and it is disheartening to think that there are so many children out there suffering through the same things that Kenzie suffers through in her story. This is a glimpse into a dark world that I was lucky enough to have been shielded from in my childhood, having been raised by a mother who always put her children first.

Bernice McFadden is very adept at drawing you into this desolate world-- one which you get the feeling she is all too familiar with herself.

My final word: Author Bernice McFadden does what she does well. Most of this book was a quiet, meandering walk through a sad and desolate landscape, with glimpses of beauty and islands of oasis amidst the misery. The final brief chapter of this book was beautiful and heart-wrenching, and had me in tears. If you are interested in experiencing the bleak lives of children growing up in households of abuse and alcoholism, told with effective writing and character development, and leaving you with a sense of hope, pick up this book! ( )
  nfmgirl2 | Sep 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This novel is a painful account of the descent of a family plagued with the chronic disease of alcoholism, complete with recognition, recovery and forgiveness at the end of the story. Those familiar with familial abuse and alcoholism will find common ground here, but probably also scepticism based on comparisons in and out. Reviewers found the material to be beautifully written. I thought that it was vividly descriptive and honest, but far too often rather mechanical and certainly not lyrical. And unlike others I was not especially moved (or surprised) by the novel's redemptive ending. If the subject matter interests you, the book is worth a try. ( )
  billnr | Jul 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The WArmest December by Bernice McFadden is a gripping novel over the impact alcohol abuse has on a family. Kenzie's childhood was marked by her fathers alcoholism which resulted in physical and emotional abuse. Kenzie di have periods of some joy in her young life but they were quickly eradicated by her fathers alcoholic rages. It wasn't until a nurse befriended Kenzie as she sat by her dying fathers bedside that Kenzie begins to realize the cause for her fathers behavior.That realization enables Kenzie to begin to address her own alcohol issues and lead her on the road to forgiveness and sobriety.This novel resonated deeply with me possible due to my own experience as a licensed clinical social worker and hearing many similar stories. This story will stay with me for a long time.
1 vote cdyankeefan | Jul 3, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A young woman is compelled to visit her dying father in the hospital and reflects back on his alcoholism and his abuse of herself, her younger brother and her mother. The author skillfully fleshes out each character and portrays the suffering within the family. This was a painful subject written with brutal honesty, written with such emotion that I couldn’t help but wonder if the author had drawn on her own life experiences ( )
  pinklady60 | Jun 19, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am so pleased to be introduced to Bernice L. McFadden through this book. While the alcoholism and domestic abuse of the story is horrendous, McFadden's use of language and story-telling is skilled and artful, consistent from beginning to end. The characters are utterly believable, both visually and conversationally, and you find yourself living in this family. Kenzie's redemption and the reconciliation with her father takes the entire book and the reader is left with the hope that her life becomes productive and satisfying. There is no sing-songy, happily-ever-after final page, though, but through Kenzie's empathetic journey, you feel that she's come to a positive place in her life and thinking. ( )
1 vote Jeanomario | Jun 14, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This domestic horror story is in the style of many Oprah book club selections which recount tales of childhood abuse overcome. However, the author’s victory over her past comes so late in the book, and the abuse so torturously, repetitively recounted that the book becomes a pretty hard slog. This is not to take anything away from McFadden’s abilities as an author as she lyrically weaves her tale back and forth between her past abuse and the resultant bruised realities of her present. Still, it takes until the very end of the book before McFadden finally confirms evidence that she is merely the latest in a vicious family cycle of pain and degradation. Only then can McFadden forgive her father, and, we hope, move beyond her tortured past. ( )
  ramsbee | Jun 5, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Bernice McFadden's The Warmest December is a powerful, emotional, unsettling, real book. I have a hard time reading about such violence and utter cruelty, but the sense of closure and forgiveness made it worth it.
1 vote Peripa | Jun 5, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
After reading the first 50-75 pages of Ms. McFadden’s novel, The Warmest December, this reader increasingly had reservations about being able to complete the book, being familiar with the traumas associated with domestic violence. The hook, however, that brought this reviewer to the end of the story, was threefold: (1) the author’s character development that continually evolved throughout the novel; (2) her unique descriptive phrasing--“My words hung thick in the air around me”; and, (3) an ability to tell a passionate story that conveys the dynamics of abuse, a perspective that places understanding ahead of judgment, particularly if you hope to intervene. ( )
  Thomas_Littler | Jun 3, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really liked this book. Bernice L. McFadden has a great writing style. This was a book that I had a hard time putting down. It teaches a good lesson about empathy and forgiveness. I would definitely recommend this book to others. ( )
  nawnie | May 31, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This one was about letting go and breaking cycles.

This book starts with a young woman’s hospital visit to the bedside of her dying father. As Kenzie Lowe takes this journey to see Hyman “Hy-lo” Lowe, she also takes a stroll down memory lane. However this walk is a very painful one.
She remembers a life of physical, emotional and mental abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. She remembers how his alcoholism ravaged her childhood, and subsequently her adulthood. She remembers her mother Delia and her brother Malcolm’s suffering, which was in concert with her own. As she remembers, she questions herself as to why she is at this monster’s bedside, and why she keeps returning there.
At the beginning of the story, I was sure that Kenzie came to ensure that Hy-Lo was really dead, especially since she had been praying for his death since she was 5 years old. But at the end, it was clear that she was not taking pleasure in his slow descent to death’s door. It was hard for Kenzie to look at the man that she has hated for so long, but I guess she came to confront her demons. So it was an opportunity for her to get some closure and possibly some answers. It was powerful and heart wrenching. I hate alcoholism!

I was struck at how Kenzie and her family seemed to have moved on, but they really had not moved on. They were still held hostage by powerful memories and they were fighting a battle against enslavement by the same demons that haunted her father. We were given a glimpse into Hy-lo’s childhood, but I was only moved slightly. This man terrorized his family and I didn’t want to forgive him for that. But I cannot deny that learning about Hy-lo’s childhood and his abuse did have an effect. I can acknowledge that studies shows that victims of abuse often become abusers. So he was only perpetuating what he learned and what was done to him. I do wish the author had given Hy-lo a moment to voice his feelings. But maybe a lesson that the author was trying to impart is that we have to make our own closure and take control of our own lives despite what others may do to us. I hope that seeing Hy-lo’s feet gave Kenzie’s feet freedom to go somewhere that she could finally find peace and hopefully happiness.

I give this book four starts because book was very real and gave a moving account of how insidious generational curses can be. I admit that I wanted a happier ending, but I applaud the author for keeping this book real and consistent. I also applaud her for tackling such a painful subject with brutal honesty. The lesson that I took from this book is that the journey to forgiveness is a step at a time. It’s an inner struggle, but it can be done, a step at a time. ( )
1 vote Ezinwanyi | May 29, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
THE WARMEST DECEMBER is a book of violence and redemption. Readers follow Kenzie's struggle to come to terms with her alcoholic father's slow dying. As she visits him in the hospital, day after day, she confronts memories of years of abuse her family suffered and learns more about her own fight to stay sober.

This is a harsh, brutal story. Some of the scenes, while likely drawn from life, are deeply disturbing. Issues of race, class, gender, and generation collide and mix, producing some moments for readerly insight. But the narrator herself never becomes a clear person: she often feels, as she describes another character, like Teflon, a smooth surface, only partially reflective.

While there is hope at the conclusion of the novel, it feels tentative at best. Kenzie's story ends, but her journey is far from over. Readers who seek a stronger transformation may be disappointed, but given the cruelty and suffering at the core of this book, a faint hope is as much as the author can reasonably evoke.

I would recommend THE WARMEST DECEMBER cautiously. It is certainly not for all readers, but it offers a thoughtful, authentic life story for some.
  laVermeer | May 27, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Originally post on my blog guiltless reading

The choice to forgive is yours.

The book in one sentence: A young woman strives to make sense of a life touched by alcoholism and abuse.

My two cents: This is one of those books that you don't really know what to expect ... and come away feeling that you got more than you bargained for. In an astounding way. I have never read any of McFadden's work, I have never heard of her period. So I didn't come in with any expectations. But I was blown away by both the story and the writing.

This is a story of a young black woman, Kenzie, who is inexplicably drawn to the deathbed of her father. In her head she didn't want to be there, filled with hate after having suffered -- with her martyred mother and her brother Malcolm -- a childhood of consistent abuse in his perennial alcoholic haze. The story alternates between past and present as she tries to make sense of her life, her relationships with her mother and her father, and the impacts on her life.

She witnessed how her mother had fallen to the addiction in a bid to assuage the pain; Kenzie too was not spared by the grip of alcoholism. Getting into Kenzie's head is painful -- Kenzie's voice is loud and strong, as she struggles with her anger and resentment, so she struggles with the pain and that "hole in her heart."

Now and then I forget things, small things that would not otherwise alter my life. Things like milk in my coffee, setting my alarm clock, or Oprah at four. Tiny things.

One day last week I forgot I hated my father, forgot that I had even thought of him as a monster, forgot the blows he'd dealt over the years [...]- p. 16, The Warmest December by Bernice L. McFadden

What I needed was to get to the meeting and share the pain; distribute it among the others, thinning it until it disappeared. What I wanted was a drink. I could pour the liquid down my throat and let it filter into the hole and extinguish the pain that lived there.
- p. 56, The Warmest December by Bernice L. McFadden

But rather than succumbing to the victim mentality, Kenzie is allowed insight into her father's own painful childhood and she comes to the realization that forgiveness and her healing are within her reach -- if she so chooses. An otherwise vicious cycle that can be simply be allowed to perpetuate can be stopped: this is the heart of McFadden's message. This is captured in the latter part of the novel -- which I re-read not once but twice, and with each reading, I kept thinking if I had the strength of character to totally forgive someone who has caused so much pain.



Bernice McFadden's writing style is simple yet powerful ... because she herself lived it. Writing the truth speaks volumes more than the most flowery prose. She describes the process of writing thus:

I suppose, The Warmest December came out of my need to understand and forgive. It was probably the most difficult and most freeing thing I've ever written. If bloodletting could be translated into words - for me The Warmest December would be just that.
- via the author's blog on Goodreads



Verdict:
If your life has been touched by alcoholism, this book will speak to (nay scream at) you. If not, it will shed a very personal light on this societal problem that many merely dismiss as a statistic. I can only express my gratitude for McFadden's courage to write about alcoholism at its ugliest and forgiveness in its finest.

First line: Now and then I forget things, small things that would not otherwise alter my life.

Last line: "I'm sorry for both of us," I said and looked out into the warm December day. ( )
1 vote screamingbanshee | May 16, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Warmest December is an emotional book about one woman's healing after surviving a childhood lived with alcoholic parents. Not only do her parents drink, but her father is physically abusive and leaves physical and emotional scars on the main character, Kenzie and her brother. As a reader, I felt for Kenzie, but was angry with her mother for not leaving when she had the support of Kenzie's grandmother. McFadden grabs the reader's attention and maintains it throughout the novel with an effective use of time shifts. Not only does the reader find out about the main character's past but also their current conflicts. This book describes a serious subject with an element of hope for the future. ( )
  speedy74 | May 15, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Spoilers:

I wanted to love this book and was thrilled to receive it for review. The introduction by James Frey was more of a deterrent than an enticement, given his deceptive history, so I started off with my teeth a little on edge. I'm not sure why "The Warmest December" never quite drew me in or made me care about this particular story of abuse and alcoholism. A work of fiction, not memoir, the main characters were never clearly drawn. It just did not seem to speak from the heart or completely gel. I did not like anyone in this book from the Grandmothers (I loathed the maternal Grandmother), to the Mother, who had ice water in her veins, certainly not the Father, to Kenzie or her brother, and was unable to picture anything except their bruises. No physical traits or personal habits made me feel close to Kenzie, the protagonist, or to empathize with her Mother, Delia.

Ironically, the only characters with detailed descriptions--overly detailed at that--were two male characters with menial roles in the story line: one at camp and another an old friend of Delia's. And then, the descriptions were odd and far-reaching. One was the "color of sandalwood and nutmeg." That doesn't conjure up a color for me as I don't really understand how one person could be both; they are totally different and sandalwood to me seems more of a scent than a color. I have no idea what Kenzie looked like, but I know how some some childhood friend smelled, wore his hear, smiled, the clothes he wore, spoke, etc. That kind of detail would have gone a long way with the main characters--aside from her Dad's chin hairs growing. Perhaps Ms. McFadden could have used her adjectives more prudently if she didn't use them all to describe one person.

Addressing the topic of alcoholism, I don't agree with the lesson in the book that she had to forgive her Father to stay sober, and it really annoyed me that she kept going to visit him. But hey, her program. Also annoying was the fact that she didn't have one single memory of a nice moment in her entire life with her Mother or her Father until she starts to forgive him. None. Not one. None. But she's living with her Mother. And visiting her Father.

I found myself dreading reading this book which speaks volumes. It was repetitive, not especially well written, and never really went anywhere. If you are going to write of grossly murdering animals and beating people senseless, give the story a soul. Recently I read Rena's Promise, a graphic, brutal account of the holocaust and found it to be totally mesmerizing, because you loved Rena. The book made you love Rena. I wish I could have loved Kenzie, but I just
didn't. ( )
  LJBooks | May 14, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Kenzie Lowe is watching her father die slowly, but she is not sure why she keeps returning to the hospital to see him. When she was young, she had nothing but hatred in her heart for the man she called Dad; he was an alcoholic and abused his wife and children. He lost jobs, spent much of his time and money on drinking, and sesnt daggers of fear into the hearts of his family. Delia, his wife, displayed the characteristics of an abused woman, and told her daughter she was "Afraid to stay, but more afraid to go." Deila took the abuse so her kids could have some semblance of a life and family. But as the days grew into years, Kenzie and her brother Malcolm did not find their father's love in their home. As Kenzie comes to the hospital and watches her father die, she starts to come to terms with her life as a young girl. She even gets close to forgiving her father, something she thought she could never do. A book about alcoholism, abuse, and forgiveness, The Warmest December is not the sappy "fogive me, I'm dying" book it might have been. The story flows seamlessly between present day with Kenzie and her father in the hospital and stories of the past which help Kenzie to learn about herself and her father, as well as his relationships to her mother and alcohol. A well-written book in which anyone can find something to relate to - a character, a situation, a relationship. ( )
  litgirl29 | May 11, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A very good book about a very dark subject. The story line rang so true that I found myself wondering if the author had been abused. The movement back and forth in time was very effective in telling the story. ( )
  momweaver | May 9, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Warmest December is an intense, sad story but not without hope. The story is told by Kenzie, the daughter of an alcoholic, violent father and a mother who drinks to relieve the pain of his beatings and violence. Kenzie and her brother, Malcolm, are victims of sadistical behavior on the part of their father and the mother's inability to leave him for a better life. As an adult, Kenzie is an alcoholic, and as she sits by her dying father's bedside, tells us of her childhood and growing up in the dysfunctional family. She tries to make sense of the past and find understanding. The ray of hope is joining Alcoholics Anonymous so that she is the one who breaks the cycle of drinking and violence. ( )
  gerconk | May 1, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
On the surface, if you've read Dorothy Allison's "Bastard out of Carolina", Saphire's "Push", even Alice Walker's "The Color Purple", then you know this story. It is a story of the tragic consequences of growing up in an alcoholic abusive family with a father/husband who can only be described as sadistic. But it is also a story about hope and forgiveness and truth. Bernice L. McFadden is a gifted writer with a penchant for dialogue and, despite the fact that I didn't find enough new in this unfortunately age-old story, she did keep me turning the pages because I believed in her characters. I wanted/needed to know how it would end for them. Ms. McFadden didn't disappoint. ( )
  jbealy | Apr 29, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a very raw, powerful, and emotional read. It moves back and forth in time between the childhood of Kenzie, who grew up with alcoholism and abuse, and her present-day struggle, as an adult, to reconcile with her past and her own alcoholism. The writing transports the reader into the horrifying world of addiction and abuse, and honestly captures how it is perceived by, and affects, children. Nothing is held back or watered down, and in places it hits you right in the gut, just the way great writing is supposed to. It was impossible to put down, even when it felt like too much to bear. ( )
  Litfan | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I loved this book. I got so caught up in her story that I did not want to put the book down. It makes your cringe and want to cry but it was a very touching story. It is a story of alcoholism and abuse that shows how it effects an entire family for generations. ( )
  sherylcalmes | Apr 26, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a reissue of a novel first published in 2001. It tells the story of a bright, talented African American girl whose life is (almost) destroyed by domestic abuse and violence (her father's) and alcoholism (her father's, her mother's and her own). The book shifts back and forth in time between the present, when the narrator is compulsively visiting her hospitalized and comatose father's deathbed, and the past, when the narrator recalls family events which center (almost)exclusively around drinking and violence. Although the book is dark and sad, it is also gripping and ends on a note of understanding and hope for the future. I recommend it highly.
This edition of the novel, issued by Akashic Books, is marred by the inclusion of a gratuitous, self-serving and wholly unnecessary "introduction" by the infamous James Frey. It should not have been included! ( )
  mclane | Apr 25, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Although I can easily say that this book is well written and might appeal to me at another time in my life; it is not the case at this time. I tried to read it several times and was just not hooked in to any of the characters. Thank you for the opportunity, LibraryThing Early Reviwers. I will update this review at a later time if I find that I drawn back to this book.
  DianaCoats | Apr 24, 2012 |
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