Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

"You're not dead, but you're not alive. You're a wintergirl....."

Continuing in her tradition of taking current realities for teenagers and weaving them into a narrative, Laurie Halse Anderson has tacked Eating Disorders in the novel 'Wintergirls'. In it we follow Lia, an anorexic and a cutter who has lost her best friend Cassie. Lia and Cassie were close, sharing almost anything, including their eating disorders and their constant competition to succeed at them. However, while Lia is able to tell us the story, Cassie is dead, having been found alone in a hotel room, having drank, binged and purged for two days until her esophagus ruptured. Lia feels guilty for her death, having ignored her phone, hiding it away due to the constant ringing, only to find out that it was her friend, calling from the motel, trying 33 times to reach her. Lia carries the shame of this through visions of Cassie following her around, encouraging and taunting her. As the book progresses, Lia and her disease progress to the point that she has to make a choice - is competing with a ghost worth losing everything she loves?

As a high school librarian, I see the impact that eating disorders have on students daily. I will admit, I hesitated putting this book in the library for that reason - the worry that it would teach how to bypass help offered and allow students to fall further into their disease, which for many, like Lia, is their life. However, any information and teaching presented in this novel is not done in a sensationalistic way or in a way that would differ from thousands of other sources. However, the gripping reality of Lias life - and Cassies death - will be more than instructive. There is a lot of literature that talks about how eating disorders can kill a person - this book - very graphically - shows how they can kill a person but more than that, kill everything around them. Watching Lia struggle with her relationships with her mother and her step-sister really shows the reader what an eating disorder can do, not just to those directly suffering from one, but also to those who care for them.

The novel is told from Lias point of view - we see her thoughts, her reactions, her story through her eyes. For most of the novel this is quite effective - her self destruction is beautifully documented, her downward spiral is very evident and her reactions to events are heartbreaking at times. Hearing the death of Cassie described to her was far more effective than having it described to us the reader. At times it would have been nice to see more than this point of view but overall it was a startling and strong choice for this novel. There were a few subplots - especially the one with  Elijah - are not always necessary, but are used, at times to show how much despair and damage has been done to her life. The lesson from the novel, about choices and how one life can impact all of those around them does not suffer from the large doses of gritty reality that help teach it, but instead are greatly enhanced - the sense of relief as a reader when you reach that point aids in teaching and growing.

'Wintergirls' is a strong offering and aptly titled. Readers who enjoy reality fiction and want to read about realistic situation faced by teens would be the target audience for this particular novel.

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