Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
A beautiful, sharp, devistating look at teen anorexia
It's hard to believe that anyone could make extreme teenage anorexia beautiful and enjoyable to read about, but Laurie Halse Anderson somehow does it-- and does it well. Lia is so clearly drawn and has such a defined world view (which is both warped and kind of wonderful), such a perfect voice, that the mortally destructive habits of her condition make perfect sense. The reader is constantly drawn between the horror of what's actually happening and the hallucinatory beauty of her internal reality, and even though it all is perfectly understandable, Anderson never once glorifies the illness. Add in a heart-wrenching loneliness, a terrible emotional isolation, and a devistating death, and you have a stunning book that expertly makes us care about someone who is actively trying to kill herself.
The subject matter is rough and has been tackled in many other books. This could easily have been an extended diatribe or a three hundred page lecture, but it's neither of these things. It's real, even when it's entirely unreal. With delicate handling, amazing voice, and clear, often lyrical language, Anderson makes it a trying but wothwhile journey through both a literal and a figurative heart of winter, as we come out the other side stronger and more enlightened, as we should through any folklorical experience.
Stylistically, we get both what Lia is thinking and what she is actively not thinking, which gives the reader a clearer idea of what's going on than she has, even though she's the point of view and the story never strays from being deeply within her world and in her mind. The chronology is all over the place, telling the story of the present, the past, and the far past at the same time, but still manages to be completely clear at all times. The emotions are raw and fierce, and the intimate access to a mind that doesn't function the way it should draws us in so we feel the same things Lia feels-- even when she won't let herself feel them. If you aren't sobbing by the end of the book, you haven't been reading close enough.
Wintergirls is aimed at kids in high school, but it never once pulls its punches or shies from the scary, painful, and often brutal truths of the world or the illness it depicts-- and because of that, it can be read by anyone. Mixing metaphor and lyricism with grim realism, dark humor and straightforward language, the book earns a place on everyone's shelf, not just those of the girls (and occasional boys) who might need to hear what it has to say.