Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking; 2009; 978-0-670-01110-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Lia is skinny-skinnier-skinniest. That's because she's starving herself, drowning out the voices that say stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat. But the voices are still there, no matter how little she eats or how much she cuts herself. And now she's seeing the ghost of her dead ex-best friend. Cassie called Lia thirty-three times the night she died. What did she want to say? Will Lia find out what Cassie's message was by starving herself to death?

Three Things to Know About Wintergirls

#1: Form meets function.

Wintergirls represents how a story's form helps tell it. Lia's voice is full of tangents and cross-outs, strange imagery and poetic language. Laurie Halse Anderson choose to use typography and layout as one aspect of Lia's descent to rock bottom. Yet it doesn't feel gimmicky or a ploy for attention. The reader comes away from the novel feeling like Lia's story could only be told in this fashion.

#2: The shared world of girls.

An intriguing aspect of this novel is the central friendship between Lia and Cassie. It doesn't seem like an equal friendship, and the two girls couldn't be more dissimilar. Cassie is loud and brash and bulimic, Lia is quiet and unnoticed and anorexic. These two girls, however, are bound by their shared oath: to be the skinniest. Lia's mother says that she was happy when Lia moved in with her father and step-mother; it got Lia away from Cassie's influence. Lia doesn't agree with her mother, and for good reason. For even though they hadn't been friends for a year, there is still a connectiong between these two wintergirls. It was forged through fantasy novels and escapades and binges and purges. Does a lack of contact or even death break such a friendship?

#3: Discovering the iceberg underneath.

Throughout most of the novel, Lia's manner of expression and the ghosts she sees can be written off to her physical condition: it's natural that a girl on the verge of starving to death would be hallucinating. However, it slowly becomes clear that her eating disorder is only masking a greater problem. No one thought to question any deeper, though, because Lia never told anyone about her ghosts. Her parents are frustrated because Lia cannot see what they see; she cannot see that she is wasting away. But since her parents don't see as Lia sees, they lack the ability to reach out to her. It's only when Lia starts to talk, to share her innermost thoughts, that she begins to receive the help she needs--and not just for her anorexia.

Any review of this novel will not be able to capture the true richness of Wintergirls. It's a book that begs to be read by anyone who appreciates thoughtful writing. With imagery that is reminiscent of Francesca Lia Block and a story that could happen to any teenage girl, Wintergirls is a jewel from Laurie Halse Anderson.

No comments: