What happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

Today’s review: The In-Between

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Cover of Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between

Author: Barbara Stewart

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Released: 2013
Number of pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary/ Fantasy/ Paranormal/ Thriller
Series: Standalone

When Elanor’s near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by bold, beautiful Madeline, she finds her life quickly spiraling out of control.

Fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss has always been an outcast who fails at everything she tries—she’s even got the fine, white scars to prove it. Moving was supposed to be a chance at a fresh start, a way to leave behind all the pain and ugliness of her old life. But, when a terrible car accident changes her life forever, her near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by Madeline Torus . . . Madeline is everything Elanor isn’t: beautiful, bold, brave. She is exactly what Elanor has always wanted in a best friend and more—their connection runs deeper than friendship. But Madeline is not like other girls, and Elanor has to keep her new friend a secret or risk being labeled “crazy.” Soon, though, even Elanor starts to doubt her own sanity. Madeline is her entire life, and that life is drastically spinning out of control. Elanor knows what happens when your best friend becomes your worst enemy. But what happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

With her debut novel, The In-Between, Barbara Stewart presents a bold new voice in teen fiction.

Goodreads.com

Ellie Moss thought that moving house would give her a fresh start at life. Old Ellie was depressed, overweight, and suicidal. Her best friend had dropped her as soon as she found someone better. A razor blade to her wrist was the only way Old Ellie could ever feel anything. But the move was going to change everything. New Ellie would be smart, confident, in-shape. New Ellie would make loads of friends at her new school in her new life. But then came the car crash, and with it, Ellie’s new life crumbled around her. With a severe brain injury and the loss of a parent hanging over her, Ellie soon finds herself withdrawing back into the old shell that she was so desperate to escape.

But then came Madeline Torus. Moving into a new home with one parent in an urn on the study desk is enough to have Ellie’s fingers edging towards a razor blade again. But then, seemingly out of the blue, appears Madeline; the girl of Ellie’s dreams. Madeline is beautiful, intelligent, and best of all, she understand Ellie like no one ever has. She too is running from a dark past that is slowly catching up. Ellie’s life becomes more and more dependent on Madeline; she is her rock, her only source of comfort, and ironically, her only source of sanity. But soon, Ellie finds that the longer she spends with Madeline, the less control she has over her own life. Ellie begins to say and do things without control of her actions, and the deeper she is pushed into her friendship with Madeline, Ellie begins to realise the dangers of love, loneliness and obsession beyond control.

This was officially my first book for 2015, and it really started on a high! It is a little bit hard to review this book, due to the many crucial plot points that I will try to avoid, lest I spoil the book, but I will do my best!
Set in a quiet town where the nearest little big city is half an hour away, The In-Between is immediately effective in setting the quiet, eerie scenes of the book’s events. Isolation is a major theme of this book and whilst protagonist Ellie Moss is isolated within herself, the remoteness of the setting adequately reinforces this. I do have a soft spot for quiet little towns and forest settings, which I suppose made me enjoy it more, but I did think that the reclusive setting was very appropriate for the book’s story and themes.

I felt that the story moved at a good pace, the events and the narration moving just fast enough to keep it engaging, but not so slow as it dragged along. I was always motivated to keep reading, and I did, sometimes late into the night which was a nice feeling- I haven’t done that with a book in a while! As the plot marched along, the tension began to increase significantly. The book has you asking a lot of questions at the start, but don’t let that put you off, everything is explained in good time, and as the pieces of the puzzle began to come together, I found myself racing through the book, reading as fast as I could to find the answers. The book focused primarily on Ellie’s obsession with Madeline and the world of the “in-between”, and although Ellie did gain a love interest at one point, it didn’t distract from the tension and gravity of the main plot, for which I thanked my lucky stars.

I really liked Ellie as the narrator. She was observant, sincere, and honest. The book, written like a journal, has her recounting her days’ events, recording the events happening in the moment, and documenting all her thoughts and feelings about Madeline and her life. The book is rich in emotion, but it’s not so terribly angsty that it becomes boring to read. The reader also maintains a level of curiosity about Ellie throughout the duration of the book. For almost the entirety of the story, it’s unclear to the reader whether Ellie is mentally ill, still suffering from the car crash, or if there truly is something paranormal happening around her. As Ellie delves deeper into her complex relationship with Madeline, it becomes clear that there is a certain other-worldliness about the events that occur around them.

Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between is a dark, twisted story of love and obsession. The writing is smart, poetic and insightful. The story is rich in imagery, the characters diverse, and the plot engaging and suspenseful. I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of YA fiction, and anyone with a taste for the thrills of the paranormal. This was a fun, if rather dark, read, and I’ll count it as a good start to my year in reading!

Rating- 8.5/10

With all my crooked heart

Today’s review: Eyrie

Author: Tim Winton

Cover of Tim Winton's Eyrie

Cover of Tim Winton’s Eyrie

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton – Penguin Australia

Released: 2013
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary/ Drama
Series: Standalone

Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely, a man who’s lost his bearings in middle age and is now holed up in a flat at the top of a grim highrise, looking down on the world he’s fallen out of love with.

He’s cut himself off, until one day he runs into some neighbours: a woman he used to know when they were kids, and her introverted young boy. The encounter shakes him up in a way he doesn’t understand. Despite himself, Keely lets them in.

What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting – populated by unforgettable characters. It asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing..

Goodreads.com

Tom Keely’s life is far from ideal. He’s divorced and detached, his career as an active environmentalist has crumbled around him, and he’s utterly broke. Far from the comfort of the home he left, Keely isolates himself from the cruelty of the outside world in his tenth-floor flat in the seedy, rundown Mirador in Fremantle, Western Australia. He drinks, pops pills and broods the day away, and the next day he does it all over again. He keeps his head down, he doesn’t draw attention to himself. Then suddenly one day, everything changes.

Returning to his flat on a particularly scorching day, Keely sees for the first time his neighbor from two doors down. Gemma Buck; a memory from a childhood long forgotten. She is weathered and hardened by the years and the hardships life has thrown at her, and here she stands before him again, as beautiful as she ever was, and with a grandson in tow. Little Kai is like nothing Keely has ever seen before. He knows far too much of the harshness of the world for someone so young, and the weight of burden he carries on his shoulders makes him even smaller, lost and afraid in a world overrun by corruption and crime. What starts off as mere passing encounters soon becomes something more. Soon, Keely finds himself with two more people in his life to worry about, whether he likes it or not.

Over time, Keely ever so slowly draws closer to Gemma and Kai. However, Gemma’s dark past begins to creep up on all of them, and they soon find themselves glancing over their shoulders wherever they go. Kai is also afraid. Afraid that his unsettled and traumatic childhood will repeat itself all over again, and he withdraws within himself, desperate to find comfort in his own mind. For the first time, it is up to Keely to pull himself together to keep this small, mismatched family from falling apart.

As the dangers of Fremantle’s dirty underbelly lurk nearer, Keely finds small measures of his old idealism beginning to seep through from under his grimy layers of depression and self-loathing. With the added responsibility of keeping two broken people from shattering completely, Keely decides to take it upon himself to initiate action, putting his own safety on the line for those he loves.

I found Tim Winton’s Eyrie to be a beautiful read. The whole book was rich in colourful imagery and each scene were was enriched with the most exquisite language. Tom Keely was a very observant, if very cynical, narrator, and to see the hot, dirty, shabby side of Western Australian life was an experience in itself. Winton breathes life into Keely through inner dialogue rich in Australian slang. For those outside of the country, you might need to consult an urban dictionary now and then, but for those who know a little of Australian life, it makes the story and it’s characters all the more loveable and relatable. Gemma Buck is also a character the reader grows to love. The victim of a lifetime of abuse and hardship, Gemma is a tough nut who works her hardest every day to provide for herself and her grandson Kai. She has been driven to the point of giving up hope that life will ever be better for them, and Keely is on the outside looking in. Through her, Keely finds his own strength and sense of purpose, for he comes to realise that it’s up to him to hold this broken little family together. The only character I couldn’t seem to find much connection to was Kai. He has grown up in a world of fear and dysfunction, and as a result he has retreated within himself, closing up like a clam to all affection. He is a mysterious child who knows far too much of the world for his age, even with his experience, and it was the level of intelligence that he possessed that didn’t really sell it for me.

Although rather slow at times, the book was enjoyable to read. There isn’t much in terms of action, so one should not enter this expecting high levels of drama and suspense. To look at it from a different perspective would be to see it as portraying an almost realistic type of life story; nothing overly dramatic, but enough events happening in the protagonist’s life to keep the story moving and deliver an effective message. There were some tense moments that kept me turning the pages, and I never found myself nearing boredom whilst I was reading. Winton takes on a very critical view of Western Australian life, and he expresses his frustrations and observations through Keely and his views on the world around him. The novel does become quite dark at times, and it sometimes left me feeling a little down after reading- it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows, but it is beautiful, thoughtful and observant nonetheless.

I would certainly recommend giving this a read. It’s an enlightening perspective on a world run by corruption and materialism and provides an insight into the mind of Tim Winton and his views on society.

Tim Winton’s Eyrie is a dark, haunting story. It tests the boundaries and limits of the human spirit when confronted with the peril of a world lacking hope, and questions the integrity of humanity and what drives us to do right by others, even if it puts us in the firing line.

Rating- 7/10

Sometimes the best letters go unanswered

Today’s review: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Cover of Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Number of pages: 323
Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary/ Romance/ Coming of age/ Drama
Series: Standalone

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?

It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that’s as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl’s journey through life’s challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

Goodreads.com

Fifteen-year-old Laurel is starting her freshman year at a new high school. For her, it is a chance at a new start, somewhere no-one knows her. Or her sister. It has been a year since Laurel’s sister, May, died, and Laurel is still struggling to cope with the loss. Her sister had been everything to her; mentor, hero, best friend. May had protected her from their parents’ fights, sneaking Laurel out of her window to make fairy spells in their backyard to make everything bad go away. May had danced and sang until their parents had forgotten about their anger and learned to laugh again. And then May had died and Laurel was left with a hole in her heart and no one to turn to.

For their first assignment, Laurel’s English teacher has the class write a letter to a dead person as a way of introducing themselves and learning to write expressively. Laurel decided to write hers to Kurt Cobain, whom her sister had loved when she was alive. After the first, Laurel begins to write them regularly, and to a wider variety of people. For her, it becomes her way of coping with and moving on from her sister’s death. It is also a way for her to explore her new-found feelings for Sky; the cute boy in the leather jacket. As she progresses further in her relationship with Sky and delves deeper into the darkness of her own past, Laurel is forced to shed her innocence and face the challenges of the adult world and all the heartbreak that comes with it.

I really liked this book and I had been looking forward to reading it. I grew to like Laurel as the protagonist of this novel, although at times I felt she was a bit naive in light of some of the situations that occur. What more than made up for this however, were some of her musings that occurred throughout the book that were positively poetic, for example this from one of Laurel’s letters to Judy Garland; “Judy, I read that you said your first memory was music. Music that fills up a home. And one day, suddenly the music could escape through a window. For the rest of your life, you had to chase it” . There are quite a few like this throughout the book, and I thought they were absolute gems. I loved how Laurel was so observant, so patient, and so understanding. She wasn’t quick to judge, even when she experienced things she had never before seen in her life, and she always tried to see things from other people’s perspectives.

But one of the things that I didn’t like was Sky. I got a very Edward-Bella impression about their relationship most of the time, and frankly, I found him to be a rather dislikable character. For the most part, he was moody, changeable, and sometimes even downright rude. And Laurel went on and on about him. Like, how about you focus on moving on from your sister’s death? Or helping your best friends Hannah and Natalie realise their feelings for one another? I don’t really want to hear about how “his voice sounded disapproving in a way that I liked” (and what does that even mean?). I felt there was too much focus on their relationship that was, frankly, rather unhealthy, and that really took away from Laurel’s journey to self-acceptance and the role of her true friends.

The book did, however, appeal to the lover of 70s-90s artists in me, especially when Laurel would include aspects of each of their lives in her letters, then relate her recounts to them on a smaller scale. Although these connections were occasional (some felt completely unrelated, which made some parts a bit confusing), when they did occur they were quite effective. It was good to read about how these artists were still maintaining relevance in the lives of younger generations, and I liked how their love for the same artists brought Laurel and her friends together.

All-in-all Love Letters to the Dead was a beautiful, terribly sad story of learning to live with loss, growing up, and dealing with the challenges that life throws at us. Laurel was an observant narrator, but I felt that she needed to be more of her own person, rather than always being influenced by those around her. For the most part, Ava Dellaira really tackled the issues in the book well, seeing as they are incredibly complex and sensitive, and she addressed so many at once. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in Young Adult drama, but if something light-hearted is what you’re after, I’d advise you to look elsewhere because this one was feels-y.

Rating- 7.5/10

We become the stories we tell ourselves

Today’s review: A Home at the End of the World

Cover of Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World

Author: Michael Cunningham

Publisher: Penguin
Number of Pages: 343
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Romance
Series: Standalone

From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city’s erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare’s child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise “their” child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.

-Goodreads.com

Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World follows the story of three friends, three lovers, and three non-conformers to the social boundaries of acceptance in 70s and 80s society. Jonathan is sheltered; doted upon by his possessive mother; isolated from the dangers and wonder of the outside world. He possesses habits that would not otherwise be considered “normal” in such an unforgiving society; he prefers playing with dolls and trying on his mother’s makeup to activities usually taken up by other boys of five. A few years later sees Jonathan starting seventh grade. It is there that he meets Bobby. Bobby is the poster boy for what Jonathan’s mother had been protecting him from; heavy with burden, high on drugs, not…. “all there”. And Jonathan finds himself falling in love. After graduation, Jonathan and Bobby grow distant. Jonathan moves to New York to attend college, and Bobby stays in Jonathan’s former home in Cleveland with Jonathan’s parents, who took him in after his father passed away.

New York city finds Jonathan writing a food column for a newspaper and sharing an apartment with the colourful-yet-haunted Clare. Although openly gay, Jonathan shares a deeply emotional and loving relationship with Clare, and the two plan to have and raise a baby together.
Re-united through fate, Bobby moves into Jonathan and Clare’s apartment, and soon finds himself to be Clare’s lover and later the father of her child. All three friends are in love with one another, but Jonathan, seeing himself as the third wheel in the relationship, decides to move on.
Jonathan, Bobby and Clare meet again, brought together over a series of tragic events and on impulse, decide to buy a house together and raise the child that all three of them claim to own. All in love with one another, Bobby, Clare and Jonathan form a new and unusual kind of family and create for themselves a home in which to live.

A Home at the End of the World was beautifully written. It was deep, intimate, and intensely real. But it was very, very slow.
You know how books are meant to have story arcs? Like, a build up to a climax, or a series of these? Well, in this book, they were more like speed bumps. The story was like travelling on a long, straight road, and every “major event” that happened in the book was really not very big; like small bumps in the road. Not very exciting, and didn’t have any huge impacts on the story.

But it was very real. The characters were exquisite and the most unique people I have ever read about. Michael Cunningham must have incredible insight into human psychology, because he could expertly enter the minds of each of his main characters and pick out their flaws, highlight their best qualities, accentuate their struggles, and avoid any generic stereotypes. Each character was totally individual, and none of them felt like the “same-old” characters that appear far too frequently in contemporary romance novels.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. There were some characters, like Jonathan’s mother Alice, that I initially didn’t particularly like, mostly because of the way each of the other characters viewed her personality and nature. But this was because they were outsiders, and didn’t have an understanding of the workings of her mind and why she does things the way she does. But when Cunningham introduced chapters written from Alice’s perspective, I really grew to like her, now that I had been enlightened to her point of view of the world.

In this novel, there’s no defined “bad guy”. Each character feels as human and as real as the reader, and by giving each character such life, it’s really hard to view any of them as annoying or dislikable or evil. I personally shipped Bobby and Jonathan since their first meeting, and I thought that when Clare appeared, that I would hate her throughout the whole novel for intruding on their relationship. But I didn’t. I actually loved her so much. I loved her quirks, her humour, her patient understanding, and her diversity. I even related to her a little; we use some of the same words when addressing people, like “darling”, “dear”, and “sweetie”. Not in like, a patronising way, but in a “you are a lovely person and I will address you as such” way.

I did find this book very slow, and because it was basically just following the, well, slightly-less-than-ordinary lives of the characters, there wasn’t a lot in the way of gripping rising action or dramatic climaxes. I’ll admit that I mainly liked it for the diversity of the characters. Cunningham was very, very good at delving into the intimate and unusual lives of his characters, but there is definitely room for improvement in the gripping story department.

I’ll recommend it for patient readers, but for those who are a little tired of the run-of-the-mill romance characters, this one might also be for you.

Rating- 5/10

 

What is it like to lose everything?

Today’s review: The Book of Jonas

Author: Stephen Dau

Cover of The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

Publisher: Plume (The Penguin Group)
Number of pages: 258
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Coming of age/War
Series: Standalone


Jonas is fifteen when his family is killed during an errant U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. With the help of an international relief organization, he is sent to America, where he struggles to assimilate-foster family, school, a first love. Eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, Christopher Henderson, responsible for saving his life on the tragic night in question. Christopher’s mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the raid in which Jonas’ village was destroyed. When Jonas meets Rose, a shocking and painful secret gradually surfaces from the past, and builds to a shattering conclusion that haunts long after the final page. Told in spare, evocative prose, The Book of Jonas is about memory, about the terrible choices made during war, and about what happens when foreign disaster appears at our own doorstep. It is a rare and virtuosic novel from an exciting new writer to watch.

-Goodreads.com

 

The Book of Jonas is the story of Middle-Eastern youth Jonas as he struggles to adjust to American life after being rescued from his ruined village that was destroyed after a U.S military operation went wrong. After it is discovered that Jonas suffers from lapses in his memory about what ensued at the time of the incident, he is sent to a therapist in an attempt to recover the memories he has lost. Aside from this, Jonas is sent to live with a host family, and attends high school with their children. Jonas, as it turns out, is a brilliant student, achieving the highest results in all of his classes with ease and minimal effort. He becomes fascinated with the workings of Christian religion, spending hours at a time researching everything he can about God and his Will. As is to be expected, Jonas is singled out by other students, and is targeted for the colour of his skin, his funny accent, and his quiet nature. When pushed over the edge however, Jonas is unafraid to fight back, and soon earns a reputation as someone to be admired and slightly intimidated by.

As his sessions with his therapist, Paul, ensue, Jonas is unsure as to whether he simply cannot recall anything that happened before he was sent to America, or whether something deep inside him is refusing to release his knowledge of what happened. Due to his continuing brilliance, Jonas receives a scholarship and attends the University of Pittsburgh, where he meets his first love, Shakri. Shakri urges him to delve into his past and make more of an effort to find out what happened to him, and Jonas discovers the existence of Christopher Henderson who, according to therapist Paul, was the soldier who saved Jonas’ life when his village was destroyed, but has now gone missing. In an attempt to find out more about his past and heal his emotional wounds, Jonas meets with Rose, Christopher’s mother, and it is this event that releases his memory. He starts to open up about what happened after his village was destroyed.
His new knowledge however, takes it’s toll, and Jonas soon finds himself resorting to comfort in alcohol, and ends up on the wrong side of the law. With the help of his therapist Paul and the information that Rose Henderson has shared with him, Jonas is able to piece together his life, his identity, and what really happened to him and Christopher Henderson the night his village was destroyed.

I enjoyed this book and I’m glad that this was the book that I randomly pulled of the shelf of my local library. I found it very interesting to read about not only war, but its after-effects, particularly from the point of view of a teenager. It was sad to witness how someone as brilliant and gifted as Jonas could be pulled down into the depths of his trauma, and to resort to drinking away his problems, but I suppose it’s understandable why someone would do that if they had lived through what Jonas had.

I did find Dau’s storytelling a little disconcerting at first. It would alternate between present-day Jonas, Jonas when he lived in the Middle East (this was before he changed his name and was known as Younis), the events of Jonas’ therapy sessions, Rose Henderson’s point of view, and Christopher Henderson’s journal entries. The amount of jumping around made the story hard to follow at some points and I became surprised by the amount of time that had passed, but it got easier the further I read.
I also felt that some of the supporting characters were a little underdeveloped, and could have contributed to the story a little better, like Jonas’ friend Hakma, and even Shakri, who we really don’t find out all that much about. The story did tend to drag at some points as well for example, there is a whole chapter (granted, it’s only two and a half pages) dedicated to Jonas filling out forms. It was things like this that I felt were rather unnecessary.

Aside from these little things, I ultimately found the story very enjoyable. Jonas’ very thoughtful, detailed observations were fascinating to read, and the contrast between his life in the Middle East and America made for interesting reading. The beginning of the story brings with it a lot of confusion about where it is going and what it is about, but by the mid-way through to end of the book, everything makes sense, and the reader finally discovers what happened to Jonas on that fateful night, although what you find out is not exactly pleasant.

I would definitely recommend this book for others. It sheds new light on the horrors of war and how it pushes humans outside of their boundaries to do extraordinary and unthinkable things.

Rating- 8/10

 

I am the space between my thighs…

Today’s review: Wintergirls

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover of Wintergirls by 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
Series: Standalone

“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.
– Goodreads.com

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.

Rating: 8.5/10