Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
March 2009, Viking Juvenile
Hardcover, 282 pages
Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, now eighteen, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia thirty-three times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia's guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. (Goodreads)
Dead, rotting daughters leave a bad smell that won’t come out no matter how hard the cleaning lady scrubs. My parents bounced the blame back and forth, bouncing Lia bean, sick starving Lia bean, what is wrong with her, it’s all your faultfaultfault.
Pg. 138- Lia’s thoughts on being admitted to rehab
-Disturbing is the first thought that comes to my mind-
Without question this is a dark novel, having nothing to do with the paranormal world, Wintergirls is a sharp and intense look at the eating disorder anorexia and the disturbing -nobody wants to really talk about- world of cutting.
The winter girls are Cassie and Lia. Cassie a young girl who literally vomits herself to death is used in past memories and has her story told through Lia’s perspective. Lia who has just left rehab (for anorexia) and has just learned of Cassie’s death invites us readers into her terrifying and delusion filled mind as she slowly starves herself. Cassie’s ghost metaphorically haunts Lia to encourage her death and restlessly torments Lia’s minds with questions…”why didn’t you pick up the phone, why didn’t you help your friend…when are you joining me”. If reading through the weariness of her starving body crying out for food and the guilt she feels over Cassie’s death isn’t bad enough then we watch Lia cut and mutilate her body.
It takes awhile to figure out the trigger button which caused the disorders but as the story unfolds you can pin point precisely what lead to this self-destruction. Number one: Lia’s parents- I know I’ve stated countless times I wish parents were portrayed in a more positive light in YA fiction, but sometimes the reality is –some parents just drop the ball. Lia’s parents have year’s worth of baggage and marital problems, her father had multiple affairs on her mother which eventually lead to divorce. Now remarried he has a new daughter and Lia bonds with Emma right away but has the typical “get out of my face” stepmother issues. She has a volatile relationship with her mother, who is over-worked, over stressed and terribly worried about her daughter’s disease. Even with the parental failures they love Lia and want to help her but the damage was done so early in her childhood dark bondage already began its ugly pull in her mind and heart. Secondly: Friendship with Cassie compounds those issues, due to the fact that Cassie is a bulimic and perhaps is even more messed up than Lia. The two when still very young make a promise to each other that they will be the skinniest girls in the school, thus setting disastrous habits for each other’s future.
Throughout most of the story Lia’s words are crossed out, giving the reader the truth behind the actual thought that does comes out, words are still legible but we know she’s fighting against them. The use of italics, font size and repeating the same word over and over reflects her distorted mental handle on life. Anderson’s writing is unique to say the least, with its rich and powerful sentence structure; I felt that the book was talking to me and not me reading it.
Ultimately, the end does deliver a positive message about fighting the demons of this disease. Although reading the thoughts of this girl slowly starving herself to death is heartbreaking and almost physically hurt me to read it, I gained tremendous insight to the inner workings of what a person with this disease is going through. Just the thought of girls with these issues going to chat rooms to encourage each other and cheer other's puking on is a sobering thought. At the same time though when I finished Wintergirls I felt relieved that my love of food and living is in a healthy place.
I think every teenage boy and girl alike should read this book. Not only teens but I think parents should read this too. As a parent and never knowing anyone who has struggled with cutting, anorexia and bulimia it was and can be an insightful tool on this touchy subject matter.
This is not a fun read or entertaining, it’s hard, it’s gripping and it’s unforgettable!!
4/5- YA, Eating Disorders