Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

35621937.JPGWintergirls 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:

::stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat/

stupid/baby/stupid/loser/stupid/lost::

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!

Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

20484041Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a compelling YA novella that opens on Melinda’s first day of high school. That’s typically an anxiety filled day for anybody, but it’s excruciating for the girl who called the cops at an end of summer party, getting a lot of kids in trouble. Shunned by her friends and taunted by everyone, Melinda goes through the day and the entire school year mostly alone inside her own head.

Something has happened that has traumatized Melinda and transformed her from a good student with close friends into a withdrawn selective mute- she speaks only when absolutely necessary. Melinda keeps everything inside and it eats her alive. Harassed and tormented by her classmates and mostly ignored by her busy parents, she falls deeper into a depression; cutting class, forgetting to wash her hair, spacing out, gnawing on her lips until they are cracked and bleeding. Even her one friend, a cheery transplant from another school who is desperate to fit in somewhere, finally gives up on her, saying she is always negative and calling her a freak. But no one knows the torment Melinda is going through. As her grades slip and her social status plummets, she finds solace in art class. Her year-long art project is something she can get lost in and ultimately something that helps her heal.

Speak is an excellent portrayal of high school alienation – nothing is sugar coated here. This is an intimate look into teenage depression; emotional, painful, honest, raw. I’d heard the book was great and yet I wasn’t prepared for all the emotions I would go through while reading it. The mom in me was so frustrated with Melinda’s situation and just wanted to hold her and help her. I worried that the book would end with a suicide (it did not) and was grateful when Melinda began to show signs of getting better, becoming empowered through a confrontation with another classmate, and ultimately finding her voice.

The subject matter is dark but it isn’t graphic in any way. Speak came out in 1999 and it is my understanding that it is taught in high schools throughout the country, which I think is great. Laurie Halse Anderson got Melinda’s voice just right- it does not sound like an adult trying to write like a kid. It’s a powerful read; one I would strongly recommend for teens, parents, and teachers alike.

I was fortunate enough to see Laurie Halse Anderson speak on a panel last weekend at the Festival of Books, and she said that many critics are calling her latest book, Wintergirls, her best novel since Speak, or better than Speak. She said it’s a challenge for an author when your first book is your best known work, and she said she was “Miss Crankypants” about that for a long time, but now she is grateful and feels so fortunate to be able to wake up and listen to the voices in her head each day and write down what they say. She is frequently asked what impact Speak has had on her life, and she said it changed everything- in writing Speak she found her voice and she found her “people”.

Thanks to Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for sharing this book with me! I loved it.

UPDATE:  Read my review of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson HERE.

April Contest for YA Books at The Page Flipper!

Chelsea at The Page Flipper has multiple giveaways each month, and she is sponsoring an awesome contest for April. Her April prize pack includes FIVE (5) FIVE!!! books that would be just right for Tweenagers (and I just happen to have a couple of those!) To enter, simply leave a comment HERE, and if you post about it on your blog, you get an extra entry (twice as nice!)  Be sure to check out The Page Flipper if you’re interested in YA books or if you’re a YA librarian. She’s looking to interview anyone in that business for her blog. Good luck!