I started reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book, Wintergirls, last night. And I finished it last night. I am a rather quick reader, but even for me at 278 pages that’s saying something. Wintergirls, while not a particularly pleasant book to read, is simply unputdownable. I have been a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson since I read Speak in 8th grade (in fact, I still periodically read Speak because it’s just that good.) Saying that Wintergirls lives up to Laurie Halse Anderson’s earlier work is perhaps the highest compliment I can pay it.
Wintergirls centers around Lia, an 18-year-old girl living in nowhereland New Hampshire who is struggling, no drowning, with anorexia. Now you see why I mentioned that it’s not exactly a pleasant book? It’s certainly not light beach reading or rom-com, but for those who enjoyed Speak, Wintergirls will appeal. Halse Anderson’s possesses a real ability to get inside her character’s heads so you really feel like you understand them. Lia’s struggle with her weight, her distorted body image, her relationships with her parents and with food all made sense to me because I understood Lia so well, even if her compulsive calorie counting was so completely foreign in my own life. Furthering complicating Lia’s life is her dead ex-best friend Cassie, who appears to be haunting her as a kind of cautionary tale to the living. As a girl who survived high school and high school best friends I was particularly engrossed in the falling out of two childhood best friends and the marks their tattered relationship left on the one left behind.
I recommend this book. I think it’s important and I feel it really does depict a reality for some girls (and boys) today. Halse Anderson mentions in her Acknowledgements that this book was written in response to a friend and pediatrician who felt that someone needed to write a book about eating disorders. She also notes that she had a psychotherapist who specializes treating patients with eating disorders read the manuscript to make sure Lia’s struggle and deteriorating condition were accurate. As a result we have a literary time capsule of a drowning girl and an invitation inside her head. Wintergirls is a book you will have a hard time forgetting. Like Cassie haunts Lia, Wintergirls will haunt you.