Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson
Most of you know that I have a penchant for helping the adult little girl lost—it was my career, and my life, before lung disease disqualified me from the physical aspects of the job.
I was never qualified, however, to help the eating disordered, the subject of Anderson's magnificent new YA book. In a short 278 pages, Anderson managed to take me on a trip to a hell I never want to revisit.
This fictional story is told by eighteen-year-old Lia, or rather two Lias. Oftentimes Anderson will strikethrough a sentence (the real thought in Lia's mind) and immediately follows it with Lia's exactly opposite vocal response. In her mind Lia will say, "I would love a piece of that pizza," Anderson strikethroughs it, and Lia says, "No thanks, I just had a big dinner." It is a powerful technique that clearly conveys the depth and progression of Lia's illness.
Lia has a best friend, Cassie, bosom buddies since third grade, but Cassie dies at the beginning of the book alone in a sleazy motel room. Cassie was bulimic (gorge and purge) from the age of eleven, but her too-busy parents never noticed anything until she was found dead at nineteen.
Anderson's prose is lyrical, almost poetic, as Lia describes Cassie's "wake":
The line of people waiting to stare at the empty body snakes out the front door of the church and down the steps to the sidewalk. Dark chords from the organ slip into the night, turning our shoes into concrete blocks and pulling down our faces until we look like trees drooping with black leaves.
Let there be no doubt that this is a tough, tough book to read. The tension starts on page 1 and never lets up, not even for a moment. It is necessarily graphic but never pruient; it is not unlike reading Dante's trip into the downward spiral of the Inferno, except that Anderson is talking about today, the real world . . . and thousands of little girls lost.