Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: YA contemporary
Pages: 278 (hardcover)
Published: March 2009 by Viking

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. If she keeps on going this way—thin, thinner, thinnest—maybe she'll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. 

My Take:

This was a very difficult book to read at times.  Lia's story is as compelling as the obsessive voice inside her head-- the one that keeps reminding her how many calories are in each orange peel, how gruesomely fat she is even as she looks when she looks in the mirror and sees a fragile mannequin.  Anorexia is a horrible place to be, and like the motel room where Lia's friend Cassie died alone and miserable, it's often an excruciatingly hard place to get out of.

I've read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and a couple of her other books (Identical and Twisted), and Wintergirls definitely follows in that tradition.  Lia's first person narration is broken, written in an almost poetic style, with scratched out words she wants to take back scarring the pages everywhere.   I didn't really enjoy reading the style, but having waded through it, I definitely feel this is another poignant, edgy and somewhat disturbing novel from Laurie Halse Anderson.  Lia's pain and never-ending struggle with anorexia is all too real in this jarring page-turner of a book, and there were definitely times when I had to put it aside and read something lighter for a while.  I do love all the symbolism: mannequins and wintergirls and a dead girl walking and matchsticks and a car running on empty for far too long.  The memories of Cassie and Lia as best friends and wintergirls together, each trying to become the skinniest, were what what made the book strong and Lia's character so real, the reason why this 'edgy' book will stand out in my mind among others written about teen anorexia and bulimia.  I would have liked to see a little more of their relationship before Cassie's death (she haunts Lia the entire book, encouraging her to give in to her self-loathing thoughts), because I kept getting the feeling that Lia knew Cassie better than the reader ever gets to know her, so to speak.   Lia's sarcasm gives this dark book a hint of humor, but also gives us a further glimpse into her mistrust of her family and rejection of any help they might offer her.  That was my real pet peeve here: I disliked how nobody in Lia's family, not her father nor her stepmother or her bio-mother, does anything to really help her.  They might make a passing attempt to get the girl to eat, but most of the time it seemed like Lia's little sister was way more clued in than everybody else. 

There's no doubt that this is a beautiful book: beautifully written with beautiful symbolism, beautiful cover... but it's the story of a girl who is so desperate to be beautiful, she cannot see the slow deterioration of her body and mind.  This was a difficult review to write, because I really feel that Wintergirls is a very personal read-- other reviews I've read for it range from unimpressed to enthusiastic raves about profound it is.  Everyone will get something different out of this one, and opinions seem to vary on a wide scale.  Lia's voice captivates from the opening sentence to the timidly hopeful ending, and will likely haunt readers for a long time to come.

Cover: 5/5
Premise: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5


Shooting Stars Mag said...

interesting review. I read this one awhile back and loved it. I'm a big fan of the more edgier reads, giving a look at the darker and harder side of life though. Those often are my favorites, so it makes sense I'd enjoy this one.

-Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

Lazy Girl said...

I did have a tough time reading this book and had to put it down for a few of the reasons that you mentioned. But there were definitely other times where I found the prose to be really beautiful. Maybe I will try to finish it now that I've read your awesome review :)


Sniffly Kitty said...

A book that can be made intensely personal can't be a bad thing. I think I may be one who likes it or at least thinks it's a good book although I haven't read it yet!

Sniffly Kitty
Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books

YA Book Queen said...

This one is definitely a hard book to read. Nice honest review :)

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