11 May 2009

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia's life is ruled by numbers: number of bites, number of calories, number of pounds. If she doesn't stay on top of her food intake every second of every day, she will succumb to her weaknesses, and she will prove to herself and the world just how stupid, ugly, and fat she really is. Sometimes Lia is sure that all she needs to do is open up the shell of her body so all the bad will just flow out. Or maybe she needs to use the razor so that she can feel something—anything.

Lia has been in the clinic twice already. She's living with her father and stepmother pretending to be normal when she learns that her childhood friend, Cassie, has died alone at eighteen in a dingy motel room. Her esophagus has ruptured from vomiting too much and too violently. She called Lia thirty-three times the weekend that she died. And thirty-three times, Lia didn't answer her phone.

But Cassie won't stay in her coffin and won't stay buried. She haunts Lia's nights and shows up in unexpected places. She misses Lia and wants her friend to cross the line and join her where it's possible to sleep and eat and not feel pain.

Lia's goal is eighty-five pounds, but maybe eighty or seventy-five or seventy might not be bad. If only she can stay strong (stupid fat lazy as she is), she will make it. If only she can convince her parents not to place her in a psychiatric ward or back in the clinic. If only she didn't hurt so much. If only she could raise her arms or walk across the room. If only she could get warm.

It is impossible to convey the emotional strength of Wintergirls. The language is beautiful, even as it describes horrific scenes:

The box opens and the razors slide out, whisper sweet.

Used to be that my whole body was my canvas—hot cuts licking my ribs, ladder rungs climbing my arms, thick milkweed stalks shooting up my thighs. . . .

I inscribe three lines, hush, hush, hush, into my skin. Ghosts trickle out. (p. 61)

Anderson holds nothing back: the self-hating mantras, the cutting, the vomiting, the pain, the hallucinations, the wish to die. All is laid out in Lia's words. It is a difficult book to read, yet it's impossible to turn away from it. The look into the mind and life a girl who is essentially starving herself to death is riveting. It's creepy. You wonder at your own fascination.

Most modern women face body image issues. Pretty much everyone wishes she could lose just five, ten, twenty, fifty pounds. Everyone looks in the mirror and sees fat thighs, fat arms, big nose, frizzy hair, bad skin. But Lia has lost the ability to see:

The girl reflected back from the window . . . [has] the shape of a breakfast-link sausage standing on broomstick legs, her arms made from twigs, her face blurred with an eraser. I know that it is me, but it's not me, not really. I don't know what I look like. I can't remember how to look. (pp. 83–84)

They yell at me because I can't see what they see. Nobody can explain to me why my eyes work different than theirs. Nobody can make it stop. (p. 197)

Wintergirls exposes much of the secret behavior practiced by those suffering from eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation are probably more common than many of us realize. I hope that by creating Lia and Cassie and telling us their stories, Anderson is able to break the cycle of self-hate in at least some of her readers. And I hope that the peek into Lia's thoughts will bring some understanding to those who are trying to reach out and save a loved one from a horrible death.

I listened to the unabridged recording of Wintergirls narrated by Jeannie Stith. The audio production was outstanding. Stith convincingly conveyed Lia's confusion, anguish, and pain. The end of the audio contained an author interview, including a reading of a poem Anderson wrote to commemorate the tenth anniversary of her novel Speak. The print version used a variety of design techniques to show blog posts, Lia's self-editing, and other types of text. The audio production successfully used some sound effects and Stith's voice to portray the same.

Laurie Halse Anderson has a website. There you will find a teacher guide, a list of resources, and other information for the interested reader.

Print published by Viking Juvenile, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780670011100
Unabridged audio by Brilliance, 2009
Challenges: A-Z Title, New Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 100+, 999
YTD: 37
Rating: A


Julie P. 5/11/09, 9:07 AM  

Absolutely incredible book, wasn't it? Terrific review! I hope this book opens the door for conversation about this serious issue!

Alea 5/11/09, 9:29 AM  

Oh wow, I feel like listening to this book versus reading it would be even more impactful. Wow.

Meghan 5/11/09, 9:40 AM  

I have to read this book. It might make me uncomfortable as parts of your review just did, but that's very important. I hope this book helps young girls confront this serious, serious disorder.

Red lady-Bonnie 5/11/09, 9:40 AM  

I've got this book on reserve at the library and can't wait to read it. It sounds like amazing writing although the topic is a challenging one. You shared some powerful quotes.

bermudaonion 5/11/09, 10:19 AM  

I won a copy of this from Lenore and I can't wait to read it. Your review is fantastic!

Jules 5/11/09, 10:51 AM  

This does sound like an powerful book, and from the quotes, the author looks to have a very vivid style of writing. Great review,but this isn't the book for me.

Sandy Nawrot 5/11/09, 11:01 AM  

Not sure this would be something for my 11 year old, but I will see if I can get it audio for myself. This is an important story to tell, truly.

Nely 5/11/09, 11:20 AM  

I recently won this one. I can't wait to read it now. Fantastic review.

♥ Nely

stacybuckeye 5/11/09, 11:34 AM  

This sounds like a must read, especially if you have a teenage daughter!

Pam 5/11/09, 11:57 AM  

I loved this book. I read it hormonal and pregnant. Had to put it down for a five minute break quite a few times.

Literary Feline 5/11/09, 12:01 PM  

I've been wondering what this book is about. It sounds powerful. Thanks for the great review, Beth.

Jennie 5/11/09, 12:10 PM  

She is an amazing, amazing author. What a great review of her book. You should send it to her! Her books are powerful, but her writing also communicates such deep caring and emotion for her characters that it's impossible not to empathize with them.
She's one of my favourites.

Anna 5/11/09, 12:18 PM  

Great review! I thought this book sounded interesting, but I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. Your review convinced me to check it out once I catch up a bit.

Diary of an Eccentric

Whitney 5/11/09, 2:00 PM  

Great review! I've been wanting to read Wintergirls for a while and you just convinced me.

Melissa 5/11/09, 2:24 PM  

Great review Beth! Laurie Halse Anderson is a fantastic realist author for teens and I've got this on my TBR!

Jen - devourer of books 5/11/09, 4:17 PM  

This was a fantastic review of a fantastic book. It would have been so easy for some of the passages in the book to come out sounding cheesy and stupid, but Anderson totally pulls them off. And, hello, how many authors can pull off a comparison of a girl to a breakfast-link sausage?

Kailana 5/11/09, 5:46 PM  

I have this book out from the library! I am looking forward to reading it. :)

Melody 5/11/09, 8:08 PM  

Ooh, I've this book in my pile, as well as Speak! Now I can't wait to read it after reading your review, Beth!

booklineandsinker 5/11/09, 9:14 PM  

i picked this book up after reading several good reviews on other blogs. after your review, i'm moving it up in the pile! thanks. :)

Molly 5/11/09, 10:47 PM  

I debated about 10 minutes at the bookstore this weekend: do I buy Wintergirls or Hunger Games. I opted for Hunger Games, but I know I will eventually get this book as well. Great, powerful, review!

Robin of My Two Blessings 5/12/09, 2:37 AM  

Great review. But sounds heart breaking. Will have to think about this one.

lilly 5/12/09, 8:13 AM  

I am definitely going to listen t this one. Great review beth! I have not read Halse's books at all but it looks like it's about time I did. I am always interested in the image issues girls face nowadays and how to help them grow up to be normal, confident young women ( I have a 10-year-old girl). It is heartbreaking to see how young women suffer nowadays from low self-esteem.

S. Krishna 5/12/09, 2:39 PM  

I want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

Michelle 5/12/09, 6:55 PM  

Wow! What a heavy subjuct this book has. I am not sure if this is my cup of tea, but I do appreciate this review. It was beautifully written.

Diane 5/12/09, 8:39 PM  

Excellent review; painful subject matter.

Alexa 5/12/09, 10:42 PM  

Great review and the quotes you shared were so powerful. I'm not sure if it is something I can read though, not right now anyway.

Nicole 5/14/09, 10:08 PM  

Wow! Great review. seems like an incredibly powerful book. I read Speak about a week ago and it was god too. Laurie Halse Anderson writes some great YA books that really speak to the issues of teenagers. And of course adults can get so much from them as well.

Joanne 5/15/09, 4:05 PM  

That was an amazing review! I wanted to read this so much and now I really cannot wait. But I'm torn now on whether to read or listen - it does seem like the audio would have so much more power emotionally.

Alyce 5/15/09, 6:56 PM  

Excellent review! I've got this one on the shelf waiting to be read.

Rebecca :) 5/19/09, 12:21 AM  

Terrific review, Beth! This one is on my list. The quotes are so haunting.

Ladytink_534 5/20/09, 1:41 AM  

I really do have to get around to reading this and Speak...

damnedconjuror 7/17/09, 11:50 AM  

Nicely written review. I didn't think much of the extracts you posted, but that's just me. However, I couldn't possibly comment on them without actually reading the book.

Cynni 3/28/11, 4:37 PM  

I just read this book myself and I was looking for other reviews on this book, when I found yours. So I linked your review in my post which will be published tomorrow.

Loraine 6/22/12, 9:58 AM  

i like your review! Here's mine: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/06/wintergirls-by-laurie-halse-anderson.html Have a nice day! :)

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