Souljah's Boy

Fans of Sister Souljah's 'The Coldest Winter Ever' will be disappointed in 'Midnight.'

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"I came busting out of my momma's … on January 28, 1977, during one of New York's worst snowstorms."

So began The Coldest Winter Ever (1999), one of the most compelling novels of a generation, a cult classic that catapulted Sister Souljah from dissed-by-Bill-Clinton "raptivist" to best-selling author, trapping millions of readers in a trance-like state that didn't end until the last, scandalous page of protagonist Winter Santiaga's story.

A drug kingpin's pampered daughter, Winter was cold as ice and hot like fire.  But she melted for Midnight, one of her father's lieutenants. Black and mysterious, he was a force of nature.

And now, that character is the subject of Midnight, Souljah's latest novel, which was as highly anticipated as it is disappointing. It's hard to match the page-burning, twisted-mouth, crackhead momma-filled original. But this one doesn't even come close.

In The Coldest Winter Ever, Midnight was 22 years old. Souljah's new book follows his early life, ending when he is 14. The story explores Midnight's arrival in America from Sudan, his family's struggle to make money to move out of the Brooklyn projects, his relationship with his two best friends, Chris and Ameer, and his conquest of Akemi, a 16-year-old Japanese art student, who doesn't speak English.

"Midnight is the heart of The Coldest Winter Ever," Souljah wrote in the special collector's edition of her first novel. True enough. It was his mysteriousness, sex appeal and intelligence that had Winter, and all of us, salivating. However, the young Midnight's cool makes the pacing of this new 432-page book too slow and steady.

Fans of  The Coldest Winter Ever will be turning the pages of Midnight to see if the central character gets promoted to Ricky Santiaga's right-hand man, to watch him fend off Winter's sexual advances. But it never happens. There's no Winter. No drama. No scandal.

The pace picks up toward the last 100 pages when Akemi and Midnight confess their love and sneak around against her parents' wishes. But just when you thought there was a glimmer of the old Souljah, the fire flickers out.

Each chapter has its own miniature story line: a few pages about Midnight's sister, Naja; several pages of talks with his mother about their family business, Umma Designs, an apparel, jewelry and fragrance line. He hangs out with his friends, joins a basketball league led by Brooklyn street hustlers, works at a Chinese fish market and religiously practices martial arts at a Japanese dojo.

His absent father still works in Sudan. But Midnight heeds his father's lessons on leadership, self-sufficiency and confidentiality to protect his family.

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