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.