It's been 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson burst onto the literary scene with her powerful debut novel, Speak. Now Anderson is back with her fifth novel, one whose raw emotion, troubling subject matter and indelible images will further cement her reputation as one of the best young adult authors writing today.
Although Anderson's theme is eating disorders, Wintergirls is a far cry from the kind of popular "problem novels" about anorexia and bulimia that seem to flood bookstore shelves. Instead, Anderson simultaneously explores both the brutally isolating self-loathing experienced by those suffering from these diseases and the twisted "support" that girls with eating disorders offer each other, encouragement that often spirals into mutual self-destruction.
At the center of Wintergirls is Lia, a high school senior who has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia. Now living with her father, stepmother and stepsister to avoid conflict with her overbearing mother, Lia has managed to keep her whole family in a state of denial.
Inside, though, Lia is in crisis. Her longtime best friend, Cassie, died the night she called Lia 33 times, each voice mail more desperate than the last. Lia ignored every one and is now wracked with guilt. The two girls had a difficult relationship, both of them locked in a dangerous pact to be the skinniest girl in school.
Tear-jerker novels and books of pop psychology might lead many to believe that there are simple, straightforward reasons why girls develop eating disorders. In her typically thoughtful style, Laurie Halse Anderson reveals that, in many cases, the motivations are far more complex, nuanced and dangerous. With naked emotion, brutal honesty and a narrative that's simultaneously captivating and claustrophobic, Wintergirls gives readers a haunting window into the disordered thinking behind eating disorders. Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #2
"It's not nice when girls die," observes Lia, who suffers from anorexia and an addiction to cutting herself. Lia has just heard that her estranged friend Cassie was found dead, alone, in a motel room -- this after leaving Lia thirty-three messages, none of which she listened to until it was too late. Cassie's death tips the already fragile Lia into a painful, spooky vortex of self-destruction. The specter of Cassie (who died of a burst esophagus, the result of violent bulimia) haunts her; her busy, divorced parents fail to take adequate action; and even Lia's love for her stepsister can't dispel her disordered visions. Crossed-out words and phrases show the double voices of anorexia vs. healthy reason and illustrate the disconnect between perception and reality. Anderson conveys Lia's illness vividly through her dark, fantastic thoughts -- full of images of tangled, spiky vegetation and continuous, bitter rejection of her parents. To read this stream-of-consciousness, first-person, present-tense work is to be drawn into an anorexic mentality (grotesque descriptions of food, calories assigned to every morsel), and therefore not for every reader, though it makes for a tense, illuminating tale. Why Lia's parents don't intervene is puzzling (familiar as they are with the behaviors and dangers of this mortal disease); but in effect it allows Anderson to demonstrate that Lia's healing must come from her own desire to live. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 February #1
Neither therapy nor threats nor her ex-best friend's death can turn Lia away from her habits of cutting and self-starvation. In broken, symbolic and gut-wrenching prose, Lia narrates her hopeless story of the destructive behaviors that control her every action and thought. She lives for both the thrill and the crash of not eating, and any progress she may have made toward normal eating is erased when her former best friend Cassie dies alone in a hotel room. The trauma of Cassie's death coupled with Lia's strained relationship with her parents and stepmother makes her tighten her focus on not eating as she slides into a world of starvation-induced hallucinations. Uncontrollable self-accusations ("Stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat") and compulsive calorie counts punctuate her claustrophobic account, which she edits chillingly to control her world. Anderson perfectly captures the isolation and motivations of the anorexic without ever suggesting that depression and eating disorders are simply things to "get over." Due to the author's and the subject's popularity, this should be a much-discussed book, which rises far above the standard problem novel. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2009 August/September
Through this dramatic first person narrative readers experience Lia?s tormented existence. Lia is in the throes of a battle that many young women fight and lose. Lia is fighting for her life as she struggles in her battle against cutting and anorexia. Her recovery is being sabotaged and threatened by the almost constant ?presence? of her once best friend, Cassie. Cassie also battled demons and succumbed after a long night when she reached out to Lia for help, calling Lia 33 times on her cell phone. Lia is a wintergirl, not dead, yet not alive, caught between two worlds. Lia survives and learns some very important lessons that allow her to go on with her life. This novel is written in short, poignant segments that make for an easy read. Because of its timely subject matter, it should be a popular title. Recommended. Annette B. Thibodeaux, Library Director, Archbishop Chapelle High School, Metairie, Louisiana ¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Library Journal Express Reviews
Wintergirls opens on the day that Lia, an anorexic, learns that her former best friend Cassie has died of her own eating disorder. Cassie had left 33 increasingly frantic messages on Lia's phone as she was dying. Now Cassie's voice haunts Lia as her disorder takes control, threatening to make her a cold "wintergirl" forever. Why It Is for Us: How do you follow-up a year in which you become a National Book Award finalist (for Chains) and win the Margaret Edwards Award for your lasting contribution to teen literature? If you are Anderson, you publish your most chilling and relevant book since Speak. The force of Lia's will as she starves herself to death is fascinating, frightening, and in every way a wakeup call to adult readers who think they have read the eating-disorder story before. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 January #4
Acute anorexia, self-mutilation, dysfunctional families and the death of a childhood friend--returning to psychological minefields akin to those explored in Speak, Anderson delivers a harrowing story overlaid with a trace of mysticism. The book begins as Lia learns that her estranged best friend, Cassie, has been found dead in a motel room; Lia tells no one that, after six months of silence, Cassie called her 33 times just two days earlier, and that Lia didn't pick up even once. With Lia as narrator, Anderson shows readers how anorexia comes to dominate the lives of those who suffer from it (here, both Lia and Cassie), even to the point of fueling intense competition between sufferers. The author sets up Lia's history convincingly and with enviable economy--her driven mother is "Mom Dr. Marrigan," while her stepmother's values are summed up with a prcis of her stepsister's agenda: "Third grade is not too young for enrichment, you know." This sturdy foundation supports riskier elements: subtle references to the myth of Persephone and a crucial plot line involving Cassie's ghost and its appearances to Lia. As difficult as reading this novel can be, it is more difficult to put down. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)[Page 120]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 8 Up--The intensity of emotion and vivid language here are more reminiscent of Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999) than any of her other works. Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, and each developed her own style of eating disorder that leads to disaster. Now 18, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia 33 times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia's guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia's cleverness holds sway. What happens to her in the end is much less the point than traveling with her on her agonizing journey of inexplicable pain and her attempt to make some sense of her life.--Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library[Page 96]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.