Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Wintergirls

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.


Wandering Coyote said...

Wow - great review. I think I've read some of Anderson's other books and enjoyed them. I can' recall which ones right now, however. I've read a lot of teen lit on eating disorders and it's always tough.

Mel said...

I'll have to find this one. It looks like a heartbreaker, but since I am a mom to a teen girl, this is definitely one to check out.

(Aside: I'm following you. That sounds creepier than, in fact, it is.)

(Aside again: I see you're reading Good Omens. One of my favorite authors in all the world, Terry Pratchett, cowrote that. I LOVE that book. It's one of those books I go back to and reread when I'm tired or out of sorts.)

Charlie said...

WC: Anderson's last book was Speak, written ten years ago. It was almost eerie, how she was able to get inside Lia's head.

MEL: Wow, that was a quick response! Yes, following does sound creepy, but not as bad as stalking.

Since Wintergirls is new, I'm sure the library has it--but probably a waiting list too. It is classified as Young Adult, but I think it should be required reading for parents.

And after a book like that, I need Good Omens. I started into "Saturday", the BIG day, last night, so I suspect I'll get lost in it this afternoon.

Meg said...

I'll have to check that out. I read Speak several times when I was a teen.

Mary Witzl said...

Great review, Charlie. This one has been on my list for a long time, but I'm waiting until I'm in an English-speaking country again and can find a used copy (shameful, but true).

I've got a few students who have eating disorders, I suspect. It is so heartbreaking. They are both girls -- as if I need to say that. I know there must be boys with bulimia and anorexia, but I've never met any.

Charlie said...

MARY: I too have heard of male anorexics, but I have no idea how prevalent they are.

´´Saray´´ said...

I read Fever 1793 by this author recently and it was such a good book! I would have to read this one too although it does sound a bit tough for my reading taste...
Greetings from Spain.