Friday, April 17, 2009

Another review. I'm on a roll.

I finished Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson a few days ago. It was freakin’ amazing.

I won an ARC of this YA novel on Lenore’s blog (thanks Lenore!) and because the book’s basic premise is “a teen girl with anorexia spirals out of control,” I expected it to be the kind of book you appreciate for the beautiful writing or the deep insights into human nature, but you’re always reluctant to sit down with it or even finish it because it’s so depressing.

Not so.

I inhaled the thing in just a couple of days. It was that compelling. Yes, it’s sad, and parts are devastating, but it never felt weighted down by all of its dark moments.

For those who need/want a description, here’s a great one from Booklist, via Amazon:
"Lia has been down this road before: her competitive relationship with her best friend, Cassie, once landed them both in the hospital, but now not even Cassie’s death can eradicate Lia’s disgust of the “fat cows” who scrutinize her body all day long. Her father (no, “Professor Overbrook”) and her mother (no, “Dr. Marrigan”) are frighteningly easy to dupe—tinkering and sabotage inflate her scale readings as her weight secretly plunges: 101.30, 97.00, 89.00. Anderson illuminates a dark but utterly realistic world where every piece of food is just a caloric number, inner voices scream “NO!” with each swallow, and self-worth is too easily gauged: “I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.” Struck-through sentences, incessant repetition, and even blank pages make Lia’s inner turmoil tactile, and gruesome details of her decomposition will test sensitive readers. But this is necessary reading for anyone caught in a feedback loop of weight loss as well as any parent unfamiliar with the scripts teens recite so easily to escape from such deadly situations."

I normally hate “issue” books. And anorexia is particularly foreign to a girl like me, who has trouble not emptying the bread basket at restaurants or turning down an extra cookie.

The reason it was unputdownable, I think, is that its teen narrator, Lia, is so completely sympathetic. She’s ruining her life, literally, (and messing up the lives of her family members). Her behavior makes no rational sense. Yet in the context of the novel, it has its own weird, comphrehensible logic, and you want so much for her to pick herself up. I couldn’t stop reading because I had to find out what would happen if she hit rock bottom (she does) and whether she’d have the strength to save herself.

Anderson’s writing is beautiful and quirky and gripping. It makes you think and it’s never boring. Her characters are so fully developed I feel like I’ve known each one of them all my life.

The funny thing about Lia is that even though her relationship with food – on the surface – is the polar opposite of mine, I still felt a connection to her and her body image problem. Lia’s behavior and rationalization illuminated some of my own food hangups for me. I have a feeling the same is true for lots of readers.

And if you’re interested in anorexia purely from the “why can’t they just eat?” standpoint, the book is a fascinating exploration into the mind of an anorexic. You won’t look at girls with eating disorders the same way again, promise. I put this paragraph at the end of the review because that’s what initially hooked me in, but it soon took a back seat to the characters. Lia is why I kept reading.

I think anyone, even guys, would like this book. We all have problems that aren’t easily solved, and Lia’s story is universal in that way. It should be required reading for moms of daughters, too, as well as any girl who has issues with body image – and that’s pretty much all of us.

Wintergirls just came out in March. It’ll go down as one of my favorite YA novels ever. Highly recommended.

UPDATE: I should probably note that I'm not sure the book ever actually names Lia's eating disorder as anorexia nervosa. And she's also got other emotional/psychological problems that I could guess at, but better not name in case I'm wrong. Anyway, just wanted to say this in case I wasn't sensitive (or factually correct) enough in the review above to eating disorders or the people who have them.

BTW, here's the video (vlog?) for the book:


WindyA said...

Great post! I recently read this book also and I loved it! Definitely compelling. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in a day!

Is on my list of new faves too!

Christy Raedeke said...

Oooh, this now goes to the top of my list!

Lenore said...

Really glad you won and glad you liked it. Great review!

Irene Latham said...

Wow, great review! This one is totally on my list, even though I'm with you on the cookie thing. :)

KLo said...

I love Anderson's work ... this will go directly to the top (well, near the top :-) ) of my reading list!