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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-09 08:06
Wintergirls - Feeling the Chill
Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

I didn't mean to finish this tonight but I did and now I won't be able to sleep until I get my thoughts written down. So, tada, here are my thoughts. 


Wintergirls focuses on Lia, a girl battling with anorexia when she learns her (former)best friend and eating disorder partner, Cassie, has died. Part of the novel - and part of why I stayed up so late reading it - is shrouded in the mystery of Cassie's death. Was it overdose, suicide, murder? These thoughts haunt Lia as she struggles with ghosts other than Cassie and works to be the skinniest there is. 


This book is hard to read. So, so hard. I never once cried but as I type this I feel like I'm about to. I feel that heavy, choked up feeling. Anderson captures the nature of eating disorders, grief, and depression so viscerally that it's next to impossible for them to cut you to the core. I didn't feel this same ache when I read Speak and I think it's because the pain Lia feels is much easier to connect to. I know what it's like to be so depressed you want to hurt yourself and feel so hateful and angry and it shakes me up to experience those emotions again. If any of those issues have affected you in the past, I do advise caution when proceeding with this book. Seriously, it's a rough one.


That all said, I really loved it. I didn't want to stop reading. The mystery around Cassie's death is extremely compelling and I was desperate to know what happened to her. Other elements of the plot - Lia's relationships, Lia's obsession with loosing weight, Lia's overall descent if I can call it that - were equally compelling and I couldn't stop reading even after I learned what happened to Cassie. 


Lia's an interesting protagonist. She's so full of pain that it's difficult to say I liked her. There were times where I wanted to shake her and just scream at her to snap out of it. It was really satisfying when other characters, like her parents, did that for me. But as much as she frustrated me, I wanted to see her succeed. Not in losing weight, of course, but in finding happiness. In recovering. I suppose that's natural whenever we see somebody suffering. Maybe that's why I connected to her, knowing that if she could just get help she could find the kind of happiness she didn't believe she could. I just wanted her to get better and my heart broke for her. 


I really liked the character of her stepmother, Jennifer. She wasn't perfect but she was a warm, comforting person. It fits perfectly, I suppose, considering that Lia's supposed to be all cold. But it was nice to see one person who cared but didn't try to force recovery on her. There comes a point for that, of course, but it was nice to see someone who cared about more than just the end goal. Aside from Emma, Jennifer was really the only person in the book who I felt truly cared about Lia. 


There were only two issues I had with the book. The first is the fantasy-reality bending imagery got a little distracting, especially at the end. All of Lia's visions and hallucinations sort of muddled things together to the point where there are a few plot points I didn't quite understand. This surprised me because Anderson's done similar things in her other novels but it works much better in them. Luckily this doesn't happen too much, just enough for me to be a little disappointed. 


The other issue I had was Cassie's ghost. Like the visions, I felt her presence muddled the story a lot. Like, too much guessing of what was actually happening to Lia in reality. There were also times where she just didn't feel necessary. Instead it seemed like she was added for dramatic effect. Perhaps it's just me, but I just didn't care for her. 


This book was hard to read and truly heartbreaking but I am so, so glad I read it. It was a beautiful ugly story, the kind that leaves you feeling changed afterwards. I wish my mom was here so I could hug her, since that's the kind of feeling it left me with. I'm petsitting a cat for a friend, so maybe I'll just hug him. 


Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommend, but make sure you're in a good enough mood to handle it. Seriously, it'll punch you in the face. 

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text 2016-08-03 01:56
Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 288 pages.
Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my all time favorite writers. I don't know if I've mentioned that before. I read Speak for the first time my freshmen year of college for a class on writing for young adult audiences. I didn't think I'd like it, since I don't normally like books with such a serious subject matter, but I ADORED it. It was beautiful and it showed me how good YA books can be.  


Senior year, I read The Impossible Knife of Memory to help me write my thesis, since the main character has a mental illness and my professor told me that's what IKM is about. I loved that one too. Not quite as much as Speak, but reading it definitely helped me grow as a writer and strongly influenced my thesis. 


Now I am FINALLY getting to Wintergirls. I read it at the pool while the kids I work with swam. I'm not super far in, but I'm loving it. I'm so excited to see where it takes me. 


Seriously you guys. I love LHA. So, so much. 

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review 2016-05-04 00:00
Wintergirls - LaurieHalse Anderson
The snow drifts into our zombie mouths crawling with grease and curses and tobacco flakes and cavities and boyfriend/girlfriend juice, the stain of lies. For one moment we are not failed tests and broken condoms and cheating on essays; we are crayons and lunch boxes and swinging so high our sneakers punch holes in the clouds. For one breath everything feels better.

This was such an amazing, profound, and sad read. I got sucked into the story instantly and literally couldn’t put down my kindle until I finished the book some hours later.
Lia, the protagonist, suffers from anorexia, her once-best friend Cassie dies from bulimia. The story is written in the first perspective from Lia’s view, and she takes us through her life, her emotions, and her obsession of thinness.
The only number that would be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double-zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it.

She’s been through treatment two times, but the real problem is that she doesn’t want to get better, to be healthy, and to be – in her mind – fat.
I bit, chewed, swallowed day after day and lied, lied, lied. (Who wants to recover? It took me years to get that tiny. I wasn’t sick; I was strong.) But staying strong would keep me locked up. The only way out was to shove in food until I waddled.

Anderson is a great writer, I can imagine that some people might have problems with her prosaic writing style, but for me, and especially for this story, it really works.

Lia’s perception is almost magical, and fairy-tale like; she goes through life a bit separate from the reality around her: on one hand, she worries about blacking out and running someone over with her car (“No dead ladies in the windshield. Not today.”), but at the same time, she thinks of her once-best friend dying from bulimia as:
She offered herself to the big, bad wolf and didn’t scream when he took the first bite.

With this screwed perception on reality, Lia can justify her eating disorder, she does not see it as the deadly sickness that it is.
I had figured out that my eyes were broken long before that. But that day I started to worry that the people in charge couldn’t see, either.
She is not happy with her weight, and never will, until she faces and acknowledges her sickness. Instead she resents going through treatment – the clinic which she sees as prison – where they “stuff” her full and where the staff is “whale-sized and sweaty” and the nurse is “so fat her skin was stretched tight”.

I could understand Lia, I couldn’t relate to her, but I understood her; a big part of that was the Anderson’s wonderful writing. She gives a unique perspective on the sickness, tells us how the character feels about herself, about eating, and about her view on her sickness.

With her once-inseparable best friend Cassie, both girls struggled through growing up with unrelenting body images, complicated family situations, and the increased demand of perfection at home. Cassie dies, and leaves behind Lia, who struggles with her weight, her family life, and her friend’s death.
“You’re not dead, but you’re not alive, either. You’re a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between worlds. You’re a ghost with a beating heart. Soon you’ll cross the border and be with me.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-04-28 02:17
Completed April 27, 2015
Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

With Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson offers readers a textbook example of wasted potential. This book has strong characters, inspired syntax, well-paced plotting, and a complex, multi-faceted social issue to which we all can relate.


Why, then, do I suggest that Wintergirls is "good, not great"?


1.  Poor narration - Jeannie Stith was not the right narrator for this book.  She does young females perfectly, but she does not take direction (Where were the regional accents?  Why was Elijah's voice not "deep" as the written text indicated?  Why does Dr. Marrigan sound vaguely like Dr. Parker?) and would have been better reading us the text rather than narrating it.  There is a difference, and she missed some of the nuances;


2.  Elijah - He is cast as the epic hero who saves Lia's life.  In fact, he abandons her twice, both times at critical moments in her descent into hell.  This, after he "helped" set in motion one of the major conflicts of the book by abandoning Cassie after her desperate cry for help.  Stealing Lia's money made absolutely no sense, and did not serve the "epic hero" persona;


3.  Faux-Cassie - Author Laurie Halse Anderson has said that this "character" is a ghost.  I'm not so sure.  In various parts of the book, she appears to be a psychological crutch for Lia to lean on, a further symptom of Lia's physical and emotional devastation.  At other times, Lia appears to be in the throes of full-on mental illness, and it is implied that this has been going on for a long time (perhaps even preceding the onset of her eating disorder).  In any event, the "character" is completely unnecessary, because Cassie herself is depicted far more dynamically in flashbacks.  This would have been a better literary device to plumb the depths of Lia's self-destruction.


i weep for Cassie and Lia, two lost girls struggling to find a path to redemption.  Perhaps if they'd never met, each would have found her true self before it was too late.  Sometimes damaged people are inextricably drawn to each other, despite all efforts to pull them apart.  As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, the victor in battle is the combatant who controls the chaos - his own, and his enemy's.

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review 2014-12-02 06:50
Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak was a vital book of my adolescence--it is a YA problem novel done exactly right--by which I mean the problems of the main character do not take the histrionic, exhibitionist center stage that is so often found in YA lit of this type. The focus of that story is trained on the protagonist and her essential strengths and talents and how she draws on them to survive and overcome. It is a fierce and hopeful book, a book that helped sustain me through several deeply miserable years--personal proof of how powerful and important YA lit can be for teenagers.Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Wintergirls. Anderson is undoubtedly a gifted writer--though her style, in this book, is sometimes over-the-top, that's evocative enough of what I remember about teenage years to be permissible--but I feel she fails drastically in the vital arena of character building. Lia is so consumed by her disease that she never evinces any evidence of personality beyond calorie-counts and self-destruction. We are told that she loves to read, that she loves her half-sister--the vital emphasis being placed on told, for Anderson never convincingly demonstrates that these traits beyond mere statement. There is nothing in Lia that suggests to me an actual human being with hopes of survival--the only believable parts of her characterization are the ones that relate to her anorexia. Perhaps this is the point and I am failing to appreciate it. I don't have the common set of experiences that made Speak so vital to me; I can't say for sure whether or not Anderson accurately depicts the anorexic mindset. I half-suspect she does, and that this might indeed be a disease that obliterates identity, reducing it to pounds and calories. In that case, maybe my complaint is that Anderson simply does her job too well: she gets so far inside the anorexic mind that she fails to depict the inevitable redemptive moments convincingly. Because I, for one, was thoroughly dubious of the sudden end. Unlike Speak's book-length struggle towards healing and its affirming climax, Lia's transformation is dubiously tacked on after hundreds of pages of dogged self-destruction, & this transformation is so sure of itself as permanent that it jars radically with the rest of the book. The sense I was left with was not that of bittersweet triumph and lingering hope. Rather, I was horrified and unconvinced. Lia is so totally ill and absolutely nothing else that it is impossible for me to accept health as a viable path for her. Because of this, I have serious reservations about whether or not the book should be given to its presumed target audience of teenage girls, particularly teenage girls with eating disorders. It doesn't romanticize eating disorders in the least--it is far too brutal for that--but neither does it convincingly depict anorexia as a disease that can be returned from. Perhaps some might find solace in the book's existence as a voice that articulates perfectly their experience; maybe it resonates with people who have dealt with similar issues--I don't know. It's possible, I suppose, but on this controversy I have to side with the cautious and the skeptical and say that Wintergirls is a book with potential to do far more harm than good.

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