Today’s review: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: The Text Publishing Company (Melbourne). First published by Viking, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Number of pages: 280
Genre: Fiction/ Young Adult/ Contemporary
“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. In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
I stumbled across this book in my school library whilst waiting for the printer to eventually wake up and print my assignment (it takes like, a gazillion years). Bored, I began scanning the shelves, saw the title and went “ooh, Wintergirls. Sounds… cool (haha bad pun)”. I pulled it out, immediately loved the artwork on the cover, and found myself incredibly intrigued after reading the blurb.
Wintergirls is told from the perspective of 18-year-old Lia Overbrook, an anorexic cutter who, on top of battling her extremely low self-esteem and depression, is also now struggling to come to terms with the death of her best friend Cassie. Lia and Cassie had not spoken to each other in months but when Lia is informed that Cassie’s body has been found in a motel room, Lia discovers that Cassie left 33 messages on her phone the night she died. Overwhelmed with immeasurable guilt and a further-fueled hatred of herself, Lia, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation from an extreme case of anorexia, begins to relapse into her old ways, letting her emotions consume her, and letting the memory of Cassie hang over her, accusing her of being responsible for her death. When Lia and Cassie were still friends, they both made promises to become the skinniest girls in school and soon, this promise became a contest fuelled by desperation and self-hate. Now that Cassie is dead, Lia is more determined than ever to reach her “ideal weight” of 80 pounds (36 kg), but she is also determined to find out what happened to Cassie and what killed her. Lia’s journey leads her to Elijah, the handsome bike-messenger boy with strange visions, who found Cassie’s body in the motel room on the night she died. Slowly, Lia pieces the puzzle together to reveal the horrifying reality behind Cassie’s death, the discovery of the truth sending Lia’s own deteriorating mind spinning into madness.
Wintergirls was a very dark, hard-hitting story that really brought to light the tremendous impact a disorder such as anorexia can have on an individual. I loved Anderson’s writing style and narration through Lia; at some points, I felt as though I was reading poetry! There is a lot of use of metaphor and personification throughout the novel which I felt really made the story that much more engaging to read. I think that one of my favourite lines was: “Spiders hatch and crawl out of my belly button, hairy little tar beads with ballerina feet. They swarm, spinning a silk veil, one hundred thousand spider thoughts woven together until they wrap me up in a cozy shroud… The web locks us into place, staring at each other as the moon slithers across the sky and the stars fall asleep”. I mean god, the amount of imagery, personification, and metaphor in that one passage… it’s an English teacher’s dream!
As well as this fluent, poetic approach to writing, Anderson also weaves Lia’s troubled, more childlike inner thoughts throughout her writing. Lines are crossed out and alternative lines added in, and there is that constant small voice in the back of the mind which is constantly haunting Lia with “body found in a motel room… she called 33 times…” I thought this was a very interesting writing technique; to actually narrate all of Lia’s contradicting thoughts and descriptions, showing her suppressing what she really thought, and instead narrating what she was supposed to think.
Lia constantly recalls her early memories with Cassie throughout the book, which I felt really helped construct their relationship, and really made me feel so terrible for Lia and her situation as I became more familiar with her and Cassie’s relationship. I also loved Lia’s relationship with her step sister Emma, who was Lia’s sole incentive to remain on the brink of sanity for as long as she could, and how Lia sought comfort in her sister’s innocence to the reality of Lia’s mental and physical situation. I also liked how Elijah didn’t end up being the cliche love interest in this book, as I felt that to do so would have really taken away from the main purpose of the novel; to display the effects of anorexia on an individual.
There could have been a bit more depth to some of the minor characters in the books however, such as Lia’s mum and step mum, whom I both felt were a bit shallow in terms of emotional connection to the story. Lia’s mum, Chloe, was so caught up in going to almost extreme measures to ensure the improvement of her daughter’s health, that she continually failed to see how her efforts were only hurting Lia more. Similar could be said for Lia’s step mum, Jennifer, who I felt could have tried to be more sympathetic to Lia, knowing the emotionally painful situation she was in.
This was a very hard book to read. I don’t mean it was unengaging or distasteful, because it absolutely was not, but the theme of anorexia portrayed in a way as realistic as Laurie Halse Anderson has managed to do made for some dark, difficult reading, and I often fell into lapses of depression after reading and had to take short breaks away from it. Disorders such as anorexia are too often pushed under the rug, or labelled as something to “get over”, but in Wintergirls, Anderson really emphasises how anorexia is certainly not something that is easily overcome, and that it is even more a state of mentality than a physical deterioration. Through Lia, Anderson is able to represent just how anorexia can torture a person, and her raw, powerful narration brings light to that unknown element about anorexia and the mind games it plays.
Whilst this book is heavy on the soul, I do definitely recommend reading it, as it perfectly portrays an issue in today’s society that is far too often dismissed.