Wintergirls, by Lauries Halse Anderson
Wintergirls is a “problem” book, a dark, intense exploration of what it’s like to live with anorexia, and between the vivid writing and the immediacy of the first-person, present-tense narration, I was compelled to turn page after page.
Lia is eighteen years old, a veteran of rehab for eating disorders; she’s been engaged for years in competitive weight loss with Cassie, her oldest and closest friend. When Cassie dies, horribly and alone, Lia’s stepmother is almost relieved that she’s no longer around to drag Lia down.
But Lia’s spiralling down anyway. Methodically weighing ten raisins (16 calories) and five almonds (35) against the need to, say, drive somewhere without passing out, Lia tinkers with the scale, plays her divorced parents against one another, and leaves a false trail of lies and plates with crumbs on them to hide her slow, deliberate unravelling. Whether Lia is literally being haunted by her ex-best friend, or whether her brain is merely tormenting her with convincing delusions, this is a horror story. It’s haunting enough to be trapped in Lia’s brain, with its funhouse mirror misperceptions of reality, viewing her own body as so much clutter, a load to be lightened.
Everything else aside, this is a strong piece of writing, playing with word association and typesetting and mythic metaphors from Persephone to Sleeping Beauty to Charlotte’s Web. Wintergirls isn’t a plot so much as a mind-set, an immersion by words into Lia’s strange, angry world. There’s no definitive answer to “why?” or “whose fault?” Lia’s point of view is a dark, dangerous place to put yourself as a reader. I came out of this book in somewhat of a daze, not sure what to do with this story, other than collar all of the young people in my life and remind them that they are beautiful and beloved.
Check the WRL catalog for Wintergirls.