Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“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.”

Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest YA novel, Wintergirls, is a haunting story of loss, depression, anger, and anorexia. Lia is literally dying to be thin.  She and her best friend Cassie, who is bulimic, spent most of their lives competing to be skinny-skinnier-skinniest.  The book opens as Lia learns that Cassie has died alone in a motel room.  Despite the fact that they haven’t been friends for almost a year, Cassie’s death sets Lia on an even more dangerous course.  Lia has been in rehab twice, and after the second time she distanced herself from Cassie.  But on the night she died, Cassie called her 33 times.  And Lia never answered.  

Lia tries to pretend she isn’t affected by her friend’s death, telling her parents, her therapist, and herself that Cassie’s death isn’t hurting her or causing her to relapse.  But at night, she is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, encouraging her to continue starving herself so that they can be together again, as wintergirls- stuck on the border between life and death.  And relapse isn’t the issue- Lia never stopped starving herself.  Instead, Anderson shows the reader the vast array or strategies that girls like Lia use to fool their parents and doctors into thinking that they are eating and staying at a healthy weight.  

The book is told from Lia’s perspective and you are literally in her brain.  The style decisions made by Anderson make the book even more powerful.  There are strike-outs, fragments, sort-of-poems, and words that creep in from the right margin like thoughts fighting to be heard.  Lia’s head isn’t a good place to be.  In fact, you may even hate her at some points.  But you can’t turn away from her.  She is that girl we’ve all known, whether she is a reflection of us or a friend in middle school, high school, or college.  On the outside, she has it all. Her divorced parents live in the same town, she has a great stepsister who adores her, she goes to a normal high school, and has a best friend.  But somewhere in there, Lia gets lost.  As she says, she “failed adolescence” and lost herself.  Constantly berated by the voices in her head that call her “Stupid/ugly/ stupid/bitch/stupid/fat” and unable to look at food without seeing it’s calorie count in parentheses, she is swimming in a fog and about to drown.

Wintergirls isn’t an easy book to review because I don’t think any of my words can do it justice. However, it is a book that every girl, parent, and teacher SHOULD read. Like Anderson’s Speak, this is a powerful, haunting, and lyrical book. It deals with the issue of eating disorders by getting into Lia’s head.  It’s not an easy book to read- I literally felt sick to my stomach at points and my heart was racing throughout it.  In fact, I had to put it down twice because I actually felt stressed out.  When I couldn’t figure out why I was suddenly feeling nervous and stretched, I realized Anderson’s writing was eliciting this physical response in me.  Talk about words having power.  

This is a book that should be read, passed on, and recommended.  This novel will make an impact.  I’m throwing out my prediction now- this will be a National Book Award Finalist or Printz winner.  It’s that powerful and important.

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