Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls book cover
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: March 19, 2009
Source: Borrowed from the library || Paperback

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. 

14 comments:

  1. Great review, Alexa! You're so right in saying that it's like watching a car about to crash, but not being able to do anything about it. This was a great read and one that I'm so happy to have gotten to read. If I hadn't seen it on sale at the bookstore, I might have missed it. Very powerful -- I can see why it's challenged so much.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Did I read somewhere that this book is written in verse? I think that's why I have been so hesitant to read it.

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  3. I just recently read Speak by Anderson, and was absolutely amazed at how well she dealt with such a tough subject.

    Now, I want to read everything she's written - but to definitely spread it out a bit. Wintergirls seems really interesting, though, and I may move it towards the top of the list.

    Thanks for reviewing! :)

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  4. Beautiful review, Alexa! Admittedly, this isn't a subject matter I enjoy reading about, but I've heard good things about this book from countless people now so I hope to give it a go one day.

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  5. I've seen this book before and I've been hesitant because it does deal with such a difficult topic. Def doesn't look like a "walk in the park" kind of book. But after reading your review, I think I want to give a shot.

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  6. It's always hard to read these types of books, but I am so glad that they are written. I know that this book has made several "best of" lists and I definitely have it on my TBR. Great review!

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  7. I love a powerful novel and when a book is hard to read, I think that's simply a sign of good writing. I loved Speak by this author, so I definitely think I'll be checking this one out! :D

    ~Keertana
    Ivy Book Bindings

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  8. Such an awesome review Alexa!!! I read it earlier this morning and have been thinking about it ever since. I have yet to read anything by Laurie but I have heard she does a superb job at creating really powerful stories with strong messages. I think I'll need to be reading something by her soon :)

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  9. This sounds powerful and although it must be torturous to read at times, it sounds so worth the read.

    This review is absolutely amazing. I especially LOVE these tidbits:

    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 PERFECT and so true. You put into words what crosses my mind constantly. Genius.

    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. Again...WOW.

    I will get round to reading Wintergirls eventually but you make me want to run out and get a copy right. this. minute. That my friend, is talent. ♥

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  10. I have to admit even the synopsis of this book is well crafted. This book sounds amazing and brutally honest. Wonderful review.

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  11. I enjoyed this too I thought it was a real eye opener for such a misunderstod disease. Lovely review, chickie, you definitely really loved this one! :)

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  12. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I've never read anything by this author before but I WANT TO. I want to read this book and Speak. I totally plan to. I honestly didn't even know what this book was about but I was attracted to the pretty cover. Since I've started reading contemps (and I'm learning to get into the issues-books) I'm totally gonna tackle both this book and Speak one of these days. Yes I am.

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  13. This book was crazy good and, like you, I was sincerely worried for the narrator when she was obviously still hurting herself.

    However, I did adore the whole ghost-of-her-friend thing.

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  14. I have got to read this book! Between your rave review and Ginger's, you guys have me sold. I've read other LHA books and they were amazing, so I can only imagine how fantastic Wintergirls will be.

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Thanks for leaving a comment! I love seeing what you have to say, and will try to reply (here or on Twitter) as soon as I can :)

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