Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Psychological

Last Winter

by (author) Carrie Mac

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Jan 2023
Psychological, Disaster, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2023
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


As gripping and unforgettable as Fredrik Backman's Bear Town and Kristin Hannah's The Great Alone, this haunting novel digs into the impact of a fatal avalanche on a small BC mountain town, as seen through the eyes of those who survive the tragedy.
"Heart-rending and heart-stopping." —Alix Ohlin, author of Dual Citizens
"...lays bare the truths of mental illness...epically unforgettable." —Jen Sookfong Lee, author of Superfan
"Deeply raw...Insightful and unsparing, this is an important book." —Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People

Content Note: this is an important book and a powerful depiction of extreme Bipolar disorder. It deals with sensitive subject matter, and we encourage readers to take care of themselves and their mental health while reading.

Last Winter is the story of a child who might not survive the heartbreak of her father’s death and a mother who struggles to both parent and manage her grief in the grips of a Bipolar crisis.

Fiona and Gus’s marriage has veered off course. Fiona’s mental health is shaky at best, and is now further strained under the weight of a transgression that she would like to both forget and repeat. Gus, a pro snowboarder turned backcountry guide, is exhausted by Fiona's mood swings and her ambivalence about their relationship, but mostly by the impact of her erratic behaviour on their eight-year-old daughter, Ruby. Ruby loves them both, but has a much closer relationship with her father, and has stopped talking in the face of the tensions between her parents.

In the midst of this marital crisis, Gus takes Ruby’s class on an overnight trip into the wilderness, where Ruby is one of only two children to survive the avalanche that kills the others, including her beloved father. While Fiona’s mental health is unravelled further by grief, Ruby is flattened by Gus’s loss. After the search ends with no sign of her father, Ruby is determined to find him herself, using the survival skills he taught her and believing that he must still be alive. Her trek back into the snow sets off events that stretches her own resourcefulness and her mother's fragile coping skills to the breaking point.

Atmospheric and deftly told with an economy of words and a finely tuned gaze on the small moments that build up to an inexorable and shocking end, Last Winter is a contemporary drama that will grip readers both for the story and for the vibrant portrayal of the complexities of family life.

About the author

Carrie Mac is an award-winning author who has moved too many times to count. For now, she lives in Pemberton, a very small town nestled in the mountains north of Vancouver. Carrie Mac's first novel The Beckoners won the Arthur Ellis YA Award, is a CLA Honour book, and is being adapted for film. Her contributions to the Orca Soundings series continue to get reluctant teens excited about reading. She is available for school and library presentations, and has been known to hold the interest of a couple hundred teens where others have failed. Maybe it's the tattoos.

Carrie Mac's profile page

Excerpt: Last Winter (by (author) Carrie Mac)

The people of the town would look back at those autumn weeks when they were waiting for the first snow, when the trees were leafless and the roads were dusty with salt. At some point the street lights began to stay on for the children’s walks to school. They’d reach back further and find the warm zephyrs of late summer evenings. People take pictures of those moments, their children around the fire in stretched-out swimsuits and bare feet, dirty fingers pulling apart charred marshmallows. Brand new school supplies tucked in a new backpack. Newly too-small jeans and dresses taken to the thrift store to make way for fresh clothes, washed and folded, except for the chosen outfit.

First-day-of-school photos, all the siblings with their hair wet-combed. It’s time to put away sprinklers, and sun hats and sandals. Then piles of crisp orange leaves dot the lawns of the town, and horses graze in misty fields up the valley. Mothers take pictures of Halloween costumes, of hockey stars and wizards and little ducks. The fathers walk the little ones around with their plastic pumpkin buckets.

The parents of the five dead children would’ve put away their summer clothes; brought the warmer pyjamas to the front of the drawers. Carried the citronella candles and the patio cushions to the garage. Noticed the mornings getting cooler, and the mother bear with her twins daring to come into town to feast on the windfalls from the crabapple trees that lined the main road. Maybe they would look back on those ordinary things and find some kind of comfort.

The snow came, and the cold hardened the ice on the lake until it was safe to skate on. That first night of skating there was a bonfire, like every year. The kids tore around beyond the glow of the fire, laughing and shouting in the half dark. There were three truckloads of wood. The tips of the flames touched the low-slung stars. Cans of beer poked out of the pile of snow left after ploughing the lot. Whiskey and vodka and coolers too. Most of the vehicles had their stereos set to Mountain FM, but not obnoxiously loud. A set of moms heated up hot chocolate in a canning pot big enough to bathe the babies, who sat roly-poly in their snowsuits, eating snow. The older children, including all the ones who would perish in the avalanche, stood in line with rosy cheeks for a ladle of hot chocolate topped with little marshmallows and whipped cream from a can. Ordinary things. Perfect treasures.

Editorial Reviews

Advance Praise for Last Winter

"Last Winter is an emotional tour de force, a novel that is unafraid to examine the most difficult moments in one family’s life, and lays bare the truths of mental illness. By turns heartbreaking and breathtaking, Last Winter is a powerful novel that is epically unforgettable." —Jen Sookfong Lee, author of Superfan and The Conjoined

"Heart-rending and heart-stopping, Carrie Mac's Last Winter spirals around an unthinkable event. With great empathy and gorgeous prose, she knits together a community's loss and a family's journey through the wilderness of grief. This is a beautiful novel that will linger in your mind long after the final page." —Alix Ohlin, author of We Want What We Want and Dual Citizens
"Last Winter is absolutely riveting, both a page-turner and deeply raw story of a community grieving, and the impact of untreated mental illness on parenting and a marriage. Insightful and unsparing, this is an important book." —Zoe Whittall, author of The Spectacular and The Best Kind of People

Other titles by Carrie Mac

Related lists