Thursday, September 6, 2012
WINTERGIRLS by LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON (Goodreads)
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (an imprint of Penguin)
Source: Borrowed from the library
Challenge: 2012 YA Saves Reading Challenge
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.
I believe in the power of words and how they can reach out to a reader and draw them in, evoking feeling and reactions that are so strong they’re undeniable. This is definitely the reason that Wintergirls has been challenged so much, at least to me. Laurie Halse Anderson has taken a few issues, mainly anorexia and bulimia, and spun them into this disturbing, but profoundly powerful story.
Wintergirls is one heck of an emotional roller coaster ride for a reader. Despite never having experienced Lia’s particular condition, I was totally absorbed in her story. It was this strong pull on my emotions – resulting in various states of hurt, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, confusion – that really made a mark on me. I’m a big fan of books that can genuinely draw you in, even when the story is about something you’re not intimately familiar with or even comfortable with – and this book certainly did that for me.
What we read is the story of a broken girl, who’s in the process of completely falling apart. I was certainly concerned as I read about Lia, especially as we get further evidence of how badly she’s fallen into the trap of avoiding any and all food even if she really wants to eat. Though the instances where she faked eating or even forced herself to eat just enough calories were definitely scary, I think what made me even more worried for her was the specificity of her calorie counts of food and her attempts to get her weight lower and lower. There’s a method to her particular process, and it made me sad, worried and disturbed that things like that are actually happening in real life.
What Wintergirls does brilliantly is show the reality of the brutal conditions that teens afflicted with eating disorders may be experiencing. It’s not just a physical thing, where they drop weight, torture their own bodies with deprivation, starvation and constant purging in order to look a certain way. It’s also psychological, with the incredible amount of mind games that are played. There are the taunting voices that say you’re fat, ugly, stupid, fat, ugly, stupid, or the friendly votes of encouragement from other people with disorders that say I did it and I look great and don’t worry, you’ll look great if you do it too, or even the low self-esteem that says you’ll never be good enough if you’re not small enough. More than anything, these thoughts and their constancy in Lia’s mind were what truly disturbed me. They made me realize how difficult it is to really step away from any eating disorder, simply because it would involve trying to reorder your thoughts and to fight hard against the voices that would try to trick you into walking down the same path all over again.
This was a powerful read to me, as someone who has no personal experience of an eating disorder or with anyone close to me who had one. Laurie Halse Anderson was brutal, but realistic in her portrayal of eating disorders, alongside depression and low self-esteem. Though reading this book certainly made me feel uncomfortable and disturbed, I am glad I read it.
To me, despite the many difficult situations that occur, the book ends on a hopeful note. The situation is certainly not a perfect one, but the possibility of a better future is indicated – and I love that it ended on a bit of positivity. It is possible to overcome these things, the book seems to say, and I really appreciated that.
Wintergirls is no walk in the park to read. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s like knowing that a car’s about to crash and that you can’t do anything to stop it and so you’re just standing there and watching it happen – repeatedly. It was a hard book to read – but it was well worth my effort. With a powerful story filled with potent emotions and a subject matter that would normally be taboo, Wintergirls certainly shed some light on this sensitive topic with a story that packed a punch to the gut.