Tuesday, January 7, 2014


I don’t usually pick up books where eating disorders play a major role, but I read some quotes from Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel Wintergirls in a guide called Writing Irresistible Kidlit. The style was intriguing and I ended up buying myself a copy. It’s just that good.

The story begins when eighteen-year-old Lia finds out her best friend Cassie has died. Which would be bad enough, but on the night of Cassie’s death, she called Lia 33 times. Lia didn’t answer, because they’d fallen out by then.

Which would be worse enough, except Lia knows what killed Cassie—her bulimia, and the pact they made when they were close as sisters, to be skinniest together. Lia chose not to eat at all. Cassie took the other route, but both roads are leading to the same place.

Living with her father and stepfamily, Lia hides the evidence of her worsening anorexia from them as she tries to deal with Cassie’s death. Of course things get even darker, since Cassie appears to her at night—a ghost? a product of Lia’s guilt? It’s up to the reader to decide—and Cassie is lonely.

She wipes a snowflake off my cheek. “You’re not dead, but you’re not alive, either. You’re a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between the worlds. You’re a ghost with a beating heart. Soon you’ll cross the border and be with me.”

As the year deepens into winter, where it’s easier to hide weight loss under layers of clothes, the voices in Lia’s head and everywhere else grow more difficult to silence. That’s when she starts cutting herself too. This part is disturbing to read, written though it is in elegant poetryesque descriptions. Though it doesn’t last long, because the house of cards comes tumbling down.

Finally Lia runs away to the motel where Cassie died, where she has to face her fate—and either give in to it or walk out of the woods somehow.

We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers. We danced with witches and kissed monsters. We turned us into wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone.

This book is filled with vivid, evocative passages like that. At times the prose is stark and bitter, at others a dreamy stream of consciousness. Once or twice it gets repetitive in a trying-too-hard way, but for the most part it’s incredibly effective. Anderson is a consummate stylist, and I loved the fanciful or terrifying descriptions in the story.

I loved the symbolism, too. That ranges from pomegranate seeds to Pandora’s box to fairy tales—especially the kind with glass coffins. Pick it up for the style, but stay for the story. It's an unforgettable read.


Judy Koot said...

Thanks for posting this, I will check it out. Normally I'm not really into anorexia type of books, but the quotes you mention sound beautiful. Also put the Kidlit book on my list, looks interesting.

Judy Koot (from AW, found you through the blog update post)

Marian Perera said...

Hi Judy!

I first picked this book up in the library, but after I started reading, I realized a copy of my own was a must. For the imagery and descriptions alone, it was worth it.

The Kidlit book is also a must-read. I plan to review that one too eventually.

Barbara Martin said...

This is quite deep for teenagers, though I still recall the angst of the time. Hopefully it has a positive ending on how to rid oneself of inner voices.

Marian Perera said...

The ending was great, especially the sense of the supernatural and the normal intersecting - Cassie on one side of the border and Lia drawing closer and closer to the other. You can feel how deep their friendship ran, but it's also clear that Lia doesn't want to die by then.

And the moment when she sees something beside the lies her anorexia has been telling her... that actually brought tears to my eyes. From there, the winter breaks and there's much more hope in the story.

Judy Koot (Lowland Girl) said...

Hey Marian,

I just finished the book this morning, and it just blew me away.

Judy Koot (Lowland Girl) said...

Hi Marian,

Just wanted to let you know that I finished reading this book this morning, and it just blew me away.
You were right, the language is hauntingly beautiful, and I found the story to be solid and intriguing.
I'm so going to read other books by Anderson!

As Barbara said, it's deep for teenagers (hey, for adults as well), but it does end on a positive note (although not a Disney one, it's realistic).
I for one am happy that there are writers who have the guts to write about topics like these. And: in such an evocative way. This is pure literature, but with content that speaks clearly and directly to the reader. It's not form over content, which I hate.

Marian, Thanks again for your blog post; I saw this book a couple of times, but might have never picked it up otherwise.

Marian Perera said...

Hey Judy,

Glad you enjoyed it! I bought Anderson's Speak as well, and I've read Catalyst, but IMO, Wintergirls is the best. Incredibly evocative.