Wow. This book is relentless, intense, and depressing...
That being said, it also seems realistic. It chronicles Lia's descent into anorexia and self-harm. Her best friend was bulemic and has died at the beginning of the book. She tried to call Lia multiple times on the night she died, but Lia didn't answer. The guilt Lia feels contributes to her decline. She has been in and out of treatment and knows how to fool the system. Her mother, father, and stepfather don't know how to reach her or what to do to help her anymore. How do you help someone who is determined to hurt themselves?
This book is a difficult read and not for the faint of heart. I didn't enjoy it at all, but I did learn from it and I do see the value in it. Thus my 3 star review. Anderson describes what Lia looks like and what she does to her body in graphic detail. So, beware.
I think this could be a good book for teens or their parents to read. Teens may see themselves and see hope or realize what could happen to them. Adults can see the pressures that today's teens face on a daily basis. I think books about these issues are important when they show the whole situation in a realistic light. Anderson does an amazing job of getting inside Lia's head and showing us her thought process.
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.
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.