Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: YA Contemporary/Mental Illness
Published: March 19, 2009
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Quick Synopsis: “Dead girl walking”, the boys say in the halls. “Tell us your secret”, the girls whisper, one toilet to another. I am that girl. I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through. I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame. 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. Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery. (Goodreads)
My Review: Wow, wow, wow. This book. Where to begin? I guess I should start by stating that this novel deals with the difficult topic of eating disorders (specifically, anorexia). That being said, this book (and possibly this review) could be potentially triggering for some, so if you’re interested in this story, proceed with caution as nothing is sugar-coated in the slightest.
If you didn’t gather it from the synopsis, this novel is about two girls, Lia and Cassie, who had been best friends since they were young. Earlier in their friendship, they create a competition between themselves revolving around who could be the skinniest. This competition became an obsession for both of them, and even after they had a falling out, Lia didn’t stop competing. Then, when Cassie dies a few months after they’ve stopped talking, Lia begins to spiral out of control. Not only is she struggling with anorexia, but she also has the crushing guilt of ignoring Cassie’s calls before her death. 33 missed calls, to be exact. And on top of that, Cassie’s ghost continuously haunts Lia throughout the novel. At eighteen years old, Lia has to come to terms with her unhealthy relationship with food and her dead former-best friend, both of which have gained absolute control over her mind. All of these elements make for a painful, emotional read.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was one of the first novels I read this year, and it moved me in ways I hadn’t seen coming. This novel was no different. I knew it was going to be heavy, but I didn’t know how personal it would feel. In some ways, Lia reminded me of someone in my own life, and that made getting into her head very difficult at times. Along with that, Lia has a younger step-sister around the same age as my younger sister. I couldn’t stop imagining my sister in the book, and because of that, there was one big scene involving her and Lia that made me instantly cry. It’s one scene that I couldn’t stop thinking about and, if you’ve read this too, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. In general, I thought this was an extremely accurate portrayal of anorexia (as well as Bulimia). The honesty made it a powerful yet difficult read, but I also think it’s an important read.
Anderson is a fantastic writer when it comes to the serious stuff (granted, I’ve never read any non-serious stuff by her). She weaves sentences together in a way that makes them sound lyrical, but she also doesn’t stray from the voice of Lia. Lia thinks in creepy metaphors, obsessive critiques of herself, long lists, and numbers (to represent calories). In that way, Anderson really throws you into Lia’s dangerous mind, and it was haunting and scary and sad. All of the characters (including Cassie) were fleshed out and believable. Lia had a strained relationship with her parents and her step-mom because she cheated during weigh-ins and because she didn’t want to recover. Lia’s refusal to recover, as common a mind-set as it is, was probably the most frustrating part of the story because even while literally ever character (besides Cassie) was worried and upset and fed-up, Lia insisted that her 5’4 ninety pound body made her strong.
This is just one of the quotes that Lia thinks to describe how she felt:
“I want to go to sleep and not wake up, but I don’t want to die. I want to eat like a normal person eats, but I need to see my bones or I will hate myself even more and I might cut my heart out or take every pill that was ever made.”
And this isn’t even one of the worse ones.
This novel also deals with depression and schizophrenia as it becomes apparent that Lia thinks Cassie’s ghost is very real and has seen ghosts in the past as well. The Cassie/Lia relationship is toxic and destructive but, without giving away too much detail, Lia’s hallucinations eventually become the thing that finally triggers her desire to recover after two treatment facilities failed to. This novel shows that sometimes, coming a hair away from dying, is the only thing that can finally wake someone up. Cassie wanted Lia to join her in “dangerland” and only ever encouraged her unhealthy habits. I didn’t like Cassie, but I also felt sorry for her because she wasn’t able to recover before her illness killed her. This is one aspect that I thought made the novel so impactful and important. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and this novel reflected the scary accuracy of that statistic and the reality of refusing treatment or faking wellness.
The only part of the novel that I didn’t think was necessary was the addition of the character Elijah. The story would have been just as good, if not better, without him. He was annoying and useless. But besides that, I have no complaints. This novel, like Speak, stuck with me for days after completing it. I can see now where the praise comes from, and I’m now eager to read more by Anderson. Any recommendations are welcome.
Overall, I found this to be a extremely immersive experience. And though it was emotional and dark much of the time, I thought it was a fantastic and relevant read. I wold recommend this to anyone who would like to learn more about the subject of eating disorders and who loves great writing and quick page-turners (I read this in one sitting).
Have you read Wintergirls? What did you think about it? Let me know below!
Until next time, keep reading and writing! – Veronica