Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson explores the darkest recesses of the troubled mind of a teenage anorexic coping with the death of her best friend. For a mother of young girls, this was a most terrifying reading experience.
Lia and Cassie were best friends growing up, making a dangerous pact to stay thin and always support each other’s habits. But after 9 years of best friendship, they stop talking.
When Lia’s parents put her in a treatment center for eating disorders, Cassie’s parents warn her to stay away from Lia, who they perceive as a bad influence. But what Cassie’s parents don’t know is that Cassie is a bulimic and in very serious trouble physically. At the time of her death, Lia and Cassie hadn’t spoken in several months, but for some reason Cassie tried to call her 33 times the night she died.
Lia is haunted by obsessive thoughts of her friend, and visual and auditory hallucinations of Cassie encouraging her to stay strong, eat less, and join her. She can even smell Cassie’s presence.
Obsessive thoughts rule Lia’s existence. Thoughts of Cassie and thoughts of food. Everything has a number. Apple (75) half a bagel (185) 10 raisins (16). The book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is compelling and painful. I felt like I was witnessing this girl, this character I cared about, slowly killing herself, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Her family is desperate to help her but Lia is critical of all their efforts. Lia believes they are clueless and that they don’t care, but it’s clear they love her and will do anything to make her well.
A starving girl does not make the most reliable narrator. She is deeply disturbed and in so much pain. She calls herself names and has such horrible self-talk that it was very hard (as a mom) to read:
Her brain is at war with itself throughout the book as she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t need food. Anderson shows the reader how conflicted she is by using a strike-out technique with great effectiveness. Here’s an example:
“My traitor fingers want that fudge. No, they don’t. They want a seven layer bar and some weird muffins and those pretzels. No, they do not. They want to squish the marshmallows and stuff them into my mouth. They will not.”
This is a fabulously written, intensely compelling book. I love how it doesn’t solve the problem or give any easy answers, because there aren’t any. It’s such a complicated issue. Laurie Halse Anderson is an amazing YA novelist who takes on the most difficult subjects. I’d highly recommend Wintergirls to anyone looking for a book to take over their lives for a couple of days, but most especially to those who deal with teenage girls on a regular basis or who want a better understanding of eating disorders.
This one is excellent.
UPDATE: I forgot about the ‘full disclosure’ issue on blogs.. about where books come from. I bought this book on vacation in August when I ran out of books to read. I read Speak by LHA last spring and loved it, and had seen Wintergirls reviewed positively on a number of blogs. So that’s how I came to own this book, if anyone cares about that stuff!
Filed under: Book Reviews, books, Family, kids, parenting, reading, Uncategorized Tagged: | anorexia, Book Reviews, books, bulimia, eating disorders, fiction, laurie halse anderson, reading, teens, wintergirls, YA, YA fiction, young adult