YA Review: October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson

october is the coldest monthPremise: 16 year old Vega has to to find her older brother before the police do, after he was involved in a terrible crime. In their rural Swedish community, it’s easy to hide the truth, because nobody’s talking, other than to say vaguely menacing things. In amongst trying to find her brother and dodge local weirdos, Vega harbours feelings for a boy who doesn’t seem particularly bothered.

Thoughts: in my search for more obscure YA, I was excited to read some Scandi-noir and this book was very different to anything else I’ve read in YA. Carlsson does an amazing job of building atmosphere; as Vega journeyed around her locale, I felt absorbed in the setting and creepy, foreboding ambience. The dialogue is so clipped and frosty, adding to the general sense of isolation. It was all pretty cool.

I was all set to recommend this book to the teens I teach and was building up to a really positive review, but one thing about October is the Coldest Month that I was unhappy with; I was surprised by the amount of sexual content and this means I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable recommending this book to the young adults I teach (most of the keen readers I work with are 14/15 and I think they’d be uncomfortable with parts of the book). I’m not a prude (okay, that’s not true. I am kind of a prude but am forced to confront this in many of the books I read, so I can live with it) but Vega’s willingness to describe her intimate encounters – and those of her mother – in explicit detail made me squirm.

It’s a very short book, which is advantageous to one’s Goodreads challenge and certainly creates a sense of pace towards the end, as the mystery is resolved although I felt like it was a little rushed. I’m hard to please though.

Conclusion: if you’re looking for a change from the norm in your YA reading, October is the Coldest Month is an intriguing choice. Its Swedish setting sets it apart, along with its gritty, dingy subject matter and characters. It’s a really different kind of contemporary read; I had a few reservations about it, but it’s refreshing to read something that strikes such a contrasting note.

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