by Laurie Halse Anderson
2009 Penguin Group Inc.
Softcover Edition; 288 Pages
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Source: Penguin Group Canada
5 / 5 Stars
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss - her life - and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend's memory and feeling guilty for not being able to help save her.
This is a story about Lia's struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all - hope.
I think the only word that best describes how I felt while reading this novel is chilled. And I couldn't think how apt a feeling that was considering the title of this book is Wintergirls, a title I couldn't understood at first, especially one for a book about anorexia and bulimia. By the end of the novel, I understood exactly what Ms. Anderson was trying to portray with her title; the idea of emotions and feelings being so frozen that one can't continue to live without focussing on anything except food and the control of one's body over food. I also think I felt so chilled because what Lia and Cassie went through over many years is a reality for so many people; it's not supernatural or a movie or a television show or even a novel, it's real life and people die. I kept thinking of all those girls I teach or have taught over the years who may have suffered with these issues and I especially thought of my amazing little girl who I hope never has to deal with this problem. This is what chilled me too.
The story is told from Lia's viewpoint, in the first person, making it a compelling read. We learn about the pact that Lia and Cassie make one eventful evening, a pact to see who can be the thinnest girl in their school, a pact that will lead to devastating results. When Lia learns that Cassie has died in a motel room one night, all alone, horrifyingly, she spirals out of control. As we watch her downward spiral and learn about her past incarcerations into medical facilities, we watch in horror the methods she uses to control her appetite. The way the author scratches out Lia's real thoughts to write the more politically correct thoughts that Lia should be thinking instead of what Lia is actually feeling (so we see both versions) is compelling and scary at the same time. She has been taught to hide her emotions and feelings and to keep them to herself. She describes it as evil voices inside herself that need to be released by cutting herself. These voices dance around her head with a litany she can't escape:
She limits herself to 500 calories per day and exercises excessively in order to lose the few calories she has eaten. She goes all out to avoid detection by sewing quarters in her gown when being weighed, to wearing bulky clothes and to drinking excess water. It's frightening to think that someone can last as long as she did considering the extreme methods she uses to keep her weight down to almost nothing. And what's scary is that the number isn't really important; Lia mentions that 90 lbs is good, 85 is better, 80 is even better, but 00 is the best. How scary is that? I felt for Lia so much when she kept thinking those thoughts, wanting to help her, but powerless to do so, kind of how her family must have felt watching her downward spiral yet again. I sympathized with her mother because as a mother, who would not do anything to help her child live and beat such a diseases? I would go to any lengths to protect my daughter and my son.
The writing style is haunting and beautiful. At the beginning, it was difficult to get into Lia's head, but as the story evolved, and Lia 'thawed', you discovered more about her, and you understood a lot more about her. It certainly gave me a greater insight into the mental thoughts of people who suffer from anorexia and bulimia, and possibly a greater compassion as well. Although Ms. Anderson states that she has never suffered from an eating disorder, her work demonstrates a lot of research into the subject and those who suffer from these diseases.
I very much loved Wintergirls and would recommend it to anyone. Maybe I just got swept up into the subject and the story, but there was very little about the novel that I did not like. I enjoyed all of the figurative language that was used to make this novel so heartbreakingly real, and it stayed in my thoughts for quite a long time after I finished reading. This book is a great example of what many women and men face today and highlights some very important issues. Hopefully this book will touch others as it has touched me.