Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book #57: Wintergirls

Book #57: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
5/5 stars

If Laurie Halse Anderson's name rings a bell, it's probably because you've read or at least heard of her famous novel, Speak. This YA novel is just as insane and wrenching, perhaps even better because of its creativity. Wintergirls takes on a tough teen topic: anorexia.

The story follows Lia, whose once best friend has just died (this isn't a spoiler, you find out on page 1!) mysteriously in a motel room alone. Lia hasn't talked to Cassie in a long time, but the girls had known each other since they were young, so Cassie's death is hard to deal with obviously. A few factors make it even harder to accept: Cassie called Lia 33 times during the weekend of her death, leaving desperate messages each time that Lia cannot bring herself to listen to all the way through. Cassie was suffering from bulimia when the girls were friends, and they bonded even more over their eating disorders (Lia is anorexic). Lia has a terrible support system, if you can even call it that. Her mother is a busy doctor, her father a busy professor, and her stepmother just doesn't get it. Oh, and Lia is also haunted by Cassie's ghost, day and night.

Over the course of Wintergirls, Lia tries to come to terms with her friend's death, and if she is indirectly responsible for it. Simultaneously, she is living a nightmare of anorexia. She had been in a hospital and clinic previously for her eating disorder, where they made her gain weight until she was just over 100 lbs. She has to maintain a certain weight in order to stay at home, so she has fixed the scale without her stepmother knowing. She is losing weight but despite her dedication she is constantly hungry. Even though she has been anorexic for a while, the desire to eat never subsides; if anything it gets worse.

This book may sound absolutely depressing, and I can't tell you that it's a happy, light story. It's dark and real and scary. But it's also amazing to behold and beautiful to read. Laurie Halse Anderson explores interesting choices in her novel, like making the chapter headings look like numbers on a scale, and listing calories in parenthesis after any food item that is mentioned in the novel, to represent Lia's thought. For example, if she is surveying the dinner table and looking at the different foods, after each food is listed, Lia is counting the calories. If there is butter on the toast, she adds more calories, etc. And the numbers are pretty exact, which is frightening, considering how meticulous Lia is about food.

Also, the writing in the novel is haunting and poetic, unlike anything I've read in a YA novel recently. “This girl shivers and crawls under the covers with all her clothes on and falls into an overdue library book, a faerie story with rats and marrow and burning curses. The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close.” This quote is just a small example of some of the amazing writing choices Anderson has made in Wintergirls. This novel was absolutely incredible and eye-opening. It's great to see authors tackle such tough, scary subjects in a real way.

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