Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsSo she tells me, the word dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.

"Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit."

I'm so glad I finally bought a copy of Wintergirls. I started reading it, and I just could not put it down. I basically read the whole book in two sittings, feverishly flipping the pages. 

Wintergirls is not for the faint of heart; it's such a dark book, darker than Speak, I would say. I don't know how well Lia's anorexia is portrayed, but to me it felt disturbingly real, the way that someone could get caught in an ever-downward spiral, not being able to stop. Anderson heartbreakingly writes from Lia's point of view, and throughout the book there are passages where Lia is fighting with inner demons.

Lia is already trapped in that spiral; she knows it, but she can't do anything about it. Add to that the death of her friend, and we've got a great, harsh story, with its moving moments. Lia's so conflicted, and I had sympathy for her. At times, though, it was really hard to understand her. I mean, obviously it's not really about the weight anymore; by the middle of the book, 5'5'' Lia weighs around 95 pounds, yet she still feels huge and fat and disgusting even though she's clearly malnourished and underweight. It's horrifying what images in the media and social pressures can do to people. There's a lot of that at high school, even though none of it is directly stated.                                                                                             

Speak is an amazing novel, but in some ways Wintergirls and The Impossible Knife of Memory were better. I suppose they just felt more real to me, like the story could be that of someone sitting next to you in class, someone who passes you every day in the hallways. (Even though it's the same thing with Speak). Each of these novels tackles a teen "issue", but nevertheless they don't feel like issue books sermonizing to the audience.

I read a couple of reviews of Wintergirls, where it was discussed that even the slightest mention of anorexia and weight sets some people off, and while Wintergirls paints a brutal and disturbing picture of the disorder, I can definitely see that. After all, Lia is so, so light, and for girls who are suffering from anorexia, that could be a source of anxiety, jealousy, and comparison. However, for others, it might help them to realize how there are so many more important things.

The sub-plot with Elijah was rather odd; it didn't seem to really go anywhere. I suppose he's just there to sort of start drawing Lia out of her shell a bit. Still, it felt extraneous to me.

Just like The Impossible Knife of Memory, I felt that towards the end of the book things wrapped up a little too quickly. I mean, a lot is left open, which is realistic, but all of a sudden Lia starts getting better...just like that. Maybe I missed some subtleties because I was racing through the book, but it didn't fit so well, and then things were rushed. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed Wintergirls; it was mesmerizing and compelling.

278 pages.

Rating: *****

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