Monday, February 15, 2010

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

First published in 2009.

“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 were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether. (

My jaw was on the floor by page 14. Literally. I have a big mouth.

This book was so stunningly good that I'm almost at a loss for words. Almost.

The language is so amazingly realistic that it just sucks you right into the story. It wraps around you like a blanket and keeps you warm through the chill of this wintergirl. It's probably the most realistic teen voice I've ever read. It's not overwrought to the point of ridiculous and it's not dumbed down emo to the point of hurling it across the room. It's a delicate balance of words that expertly captures what this girl is going through. Absolutely stunning.

It's loquacious without being melodramatic. It's precise without spelling everything out. You can feel the chill in her bones, feel the snow in her boots, feel the wind whistling through her skin. It's disgusting and captivating and you can't look away. It's impossible. So you keep reading and reading and reading and swallow it whole like Lia so desperately wants to swallow a muffin.

This is real. This is something that so many teens suffer through, and not just girls. And it's not just about being skinny; it's about power and the need to control your own life. The only thing that Lia can control in her world of absentee parents is what she eats. She is strong but so very weak.

I am absolutely amazed reading this book because I find it so hard to relate to someone like this yet I'm so captivated by the story. I don't think there's a teenage girl out there that doesn't have weight issues. While I was never even close to anorexia or bulimia, I was a pretty big exercise nut. I often took double gym classes (which sometimes meant twice in one day on block scheduling, 84 minutes each class) plus sports plus exercising when I got home. But I was never an unhealthy weight. 119 was my thinnest during those years and that lasted for about 10 minutes. 122 was my standard, a far cry from Lia's 85 goal. Christ. I'm a heifer when those two numbers are compared, especially since I weigh about 15 pounds more now.

But I remember, especially when I was heavy into sports, forcing myself to eat something substantial for lunch because food was energy and I wouldn't be able to perform if I didn't eat. Was I sick for how much I exercised? No, not really. I could have gone a lot harder. Instead of a weightman (and a shitty weightman I was), I could have sprinted and been really damn good at it. But I didn't because the sprinting coach was an asshole and I didn't want to run for him. When the winter coaches found out my speed I made them promise not to tell the spring coach. And they kept their word.

Am I stronger because I never succumbed to an eating disorder? I'd like to think so but not everyone's like me. Not everyone's that strong although, like in the book, they feel they are. That anorexic support group website where they constantly told each other how strong they were was absolutely disgusting. And I know it's true. That's not the first time I've heard of something like that. Do they know any better? They think they're okay. Nevermind they're constantly cold, dizzy, physically weak. They're skinny. Double zeros.

I know a girl about a year older than me who weighs 85 pounds out of no effort of her own. She eats like a horse at a trough and cannot, for the life of her, gain the weight. And she gets shit from everyone, including doctors, about how "anorexic" she is. They don't believe her when she says she eats. I knew another girl, my freshman year of high school, who was confined to a wheel chair because she'd just come out of a center like the one in the book for girls with eating disorders. She was exceptionally thin and she was forced to gain back all the weight that she lost. I found out fairly recently that one of my good friends was anorexic. Her home life was absolute shit so along with the drugs and the drinking, there was that. Thankfully she's perfectly fine now, absolutely healthy (aside from the cigarettes) with a beautiful bobble-headed boy (if you saw this kid, you'd cringe for how big his head is) and a loving husband that saw her through all of that shit (yes, they've been together since high school).

I really liked the ending of this book because sometimes it takes exceptionally drastic measures for people to realize what they're doing to themselves. It's not all sunshine and lollipops to get out of something like this and even with the knowledge of how her friend died, Lia still didn't stop. Cassie was a bad influence even in death and didn't stop until the end, and beyond.

I think this book dealt with the issue excellently. There was no sugar-coating anything. Death by ruptured esophagus is an atrocious way to die and so highly plausible that it should scare people straight. The internal struggle portrayed felt like it was going on in my own head. When I was reading, there wasn't anything going on around me. I was in the story, in Lia's head, watching everything unfold. I felt her want and need to eat and I was just as sad as she was when she didn't give in to it.

This book is eye-opening and I'm sure way too many teens can relate to what's between the covers. But maybe it can help them too. There is light at the end of the tunnel but you have to be strong enough to reach for it. The people there aren't trying to hold you down, they're trying to lift you up. Take the lead out of your pockets and let them because I know you don't want to die. No one really does, not when they end up so close to actually doing it.


Elie said...

Wow Donna, great review. I had no idea this book dealt with such sensitive subject matter. It seemed to have a strong impact on you. I am adding this to my list. thanks for sharing.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

Definitely agree--great review! I've heard a lot of fantastic things about this book :-) It's on my TBR

jessjordan said...

This book was amazing and made me want to be a better writer. And, well ... of course I was super jealous at how amazing LHA pegged teen voice.

Audrey; (AyC) said...

great review, i agree completely. The writing in this book was flawless, one of my favourite and best reads of the year :)

prophecygirl said...

Excellent review, and I agree with your 5 chomps. This was one of my favourite books of 2009, and I was in complete awe when I finished it. It's amazingly written.

Anonymous said...

Rather nice place you've got here. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Best regards

hmsgofita said...

As always your reviews hit the spot! I really enjoy Laurie Halse Anderson. This one is on my list. Great review.

Donna said...

Thanks, everyone! This book is definitely worth the read. Like now.

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