Laurie Halse Anderson is not one to shy away from difficult topics. Her debut novel Speak dealing with the issue of teen rape was, lets just say, incredible. In her latest, Wintergirls, Anderson deftly addresses the devastating effects of eating disorders.
Wintergirls is the story of Lia who daily fights a battle between herself and food. She's already been hospitalized twice for her eating disorder where she played the 'recovery game' until doctors and parents were satisfied and gave her enough breathing room to go back to her old habits. It's the one thing Lia constantly concentrates on in the midst of divorced parents who are too busy to notice her and school that doesn't really matter. How many calories (or lack there of) each day. How much she exercises. But then Lia begins to face the realities of her choices when she finds out that her (ex)best friend, Cassie, who also had an eating disorder, has died. As she stumbles deeper into grief, Lia tries to determine not the reason why Cassie killed herself, but why not?
What amazes me is how accurately Anderson is able to portray a teenager who feels constantly at odds with her family, herself and especially food. She is so isolated, so alone with the pain and destructive feelings in her head it seems to the reader she'll never be able to pull herself out. Lia's isolation is underscored by her nightly visits to supersecret and honestly so competely depressing online chat groups for anorexic/bulimic girls who discuss their struggle to lose that last 10, 15, even 25 pounds. Nameless girls who like Lia try to control the chaos of their lives by controlling their body.
Wintergirls was not an easy read nor was it easy to put down. I alternated between pity, depression and down right horror at the things Lia put herself and consequently, her family through. Though this is a teen novel, I would hesitate to give it to just any teen girl - it's something that needs to be digested with a little bit of maturity and sensitivity. But was it a heartbreaking beautiful novel that will stick with me a long time? Absolutely.
If you're looking for a movie tie-in, I'd recommend the moving HBO documentary Thin.
Summer Reading Blitz update: 4/30