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Cover blurb (taken from Amazon): “Can a father who turned his back on a child want her when she’s an adult?
College freshman Billie Dixon has always found solace in calculations and her secret drawings, hiding from the more difficult parts of life—her mother’s alcoholism, her inability to connect, and of course, her estranged father. That is, until she arrives at Bradford College in Vermont, where the Math Department Head is her father.
After a semester of avoiding him, her father insists she join him for the winter holidays to rekindle their relationship, and Billie is at a loss. While she tries to uphold the status quo, her father refuses to be pushed to the sidelines and forgotten. Just as she realizes she doesn’t want to lose him, her meek and shy father kicks her out of his home during an argument. Can Billie swallow her pride and make amends with her father or will she lose him forever?
If We Had No Winter is a gritty coming-of-age tale about loss, love, and learning to try again.”
I received a free copy of ‘If We Had No Winter’ from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.
What I liked:
Where do I even start? There were so many things I liked, and so many things I want to talk about.
There’s a deep honesty about this whole book that’s really remarkable. The characters are deeply flawed, and the relationships are realistically complex. Pitchford doesn’t treat her characters gently. There are things to love and hate about nearly everyone. I absolutely loved the relationship between Billie and Jimmy. **Possible spoilers ahead** How often do we get to see a healthy friendship between a straight boy and girl that doesn’t include unrequited love? Jimmy loves Billie the way a best friend should. He accepts her for who she is, and challenges her to be a better version of herself. There’s no implication of a relationship there, just a solid, functional friendship.**
I was very happy and impressed with the way Pitchford wrote her male characters. Most of the supporting characters are college-age boys. There are some stereotypical behaviors (drinking, etc.) but Pitchford makes sure that they aren’t one-dimensional. These are young men who are emotionally intelligent, and good listeners. They aren’t perfect. Like Billie, they are each flawed, but they try.
‘If We Had No Winter’ isn’t a light, fluffy story. It deals with a number of heavy topics, but feels accurate to the age range of the characters. There isn’t a lot of fiction written about college-age characters. There are a ton of teen books set in high school but I don’t see as many books set on a college campus. I think this is getting better, but I can say that when I was a freshman in college, this book would have been invaluable.
What I didn’t like:
I got frustrated with Billie the same way you get frustrated with your friends in real life. You understand their motivations, but that doesn’t mean you always like their decisions. As the book progresses, Billie’s internal monologue doesn’t necessarily match up with her actions. I started to get annoyed with her unwillingness to see things from anyone else’s point of view. Having said that, though, I think Billie is an accurate portrayal of someone her age, with her life experiences.
‘If We Had No Winter’ was a quick read for me, but some of the middle chapters were a little slow.
Would I recommend this book?
**Sensitive content warning/spoilers** ‘If We Had No Winter’ deals with divorce, sex, abortion, drinking, alcoholism and a possible eating disorder. Pitchford doesn’t necessarily go into great detail, but doesn’t pull punches either.
**The sexual encounters in this book were really, really interesting to me. I recently wrote a post about annoying book tropes, and dramatic sex was one of the discussion points. In that post, I said that I wished more authors would include realistic sex. ‘If We Had No Winter’ was exactly the kind of book I want to see more of. Billie loses her virginity in the book, and the reader is present for the entire encounter. Billie and her partner have a discussion first, use birth control, and the love interest makes sure that Billie is comfortable and enjoying herself. There is another encounter that goes differently, but I was happy with the way both scenes were written.**
**Super-mega spoilers** An abortion takes place during this book, and Pitchford handles it beautifully. There isn’t any moral shaming, just support, love and understanding.**
I really loved this book. I loved all of the nerdy references, and the accurate portrayal of real-life hardships.
From a diversity standpoint, ‘If We Had No Winter’ doesn’t go into much detail. There are a few mentions of LGBTQ+ issues (trans men in fraternities, for example) but otherwise it isn’t discussed at length. It seemed to me that most of the main characters are white (based on hair color and tan descriptions) but it’s never stated outright. Most of the conflict in this book is internal: Billie trying to deal with herself. Mental health concerns are never directly addressed, but referred to. This novel is labeled ‘Billie Dixon Book 1’ so I’ll be curious to see if these issues are addressed later.
If you are a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak), you’ll like D.L. Pitchford. ‘If We Had No Winter’ is a book I wish had been available to me when I was in college. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author, and more about Billie Dixon.