Is Wintergirls a snow job?

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by Viking, New York, 2009; 278 pages.

Lia’s long-time best friend Cassie is dead.  She died alone in a motel room.  She called Lia 33 times before dying, and Lia never answered her phone.  Guilt.  Pain.  Self-loathing.  Lia struggles with all three.  Her coping mechanism is to starve herself and cut.  Cassie haunts her, urging her to join her on the other side.  But Cassie’s parting words, passed on to Lia by a vagrant teen who worked at the motel, were that Lia won their bet: to be the skinniest girl at school.  These final words, and a chilling showdown with a ghost at a motel, seem to provide the turning point in Lia’s life.  Wintergirls ends with Lia in therapy, for the third time, apparently making an effort to get better.

Anderson employs some unusual techniques to give us a more vivid picture of Lia and her motivations.  For example, the chapter titles are printed like a digital read-out on a bathroom scale.  Also, Lia’s inner voice is presented as either strike-through text or right-justified small print, which her conscious mind overrides with more politically-correct and/or anorexically-correct verbiage.  In addition, the condition of Lia’s starved brain is painfully apparent in Anderson’s writing.  I’ve read three of Anderson’s novels now, and I enjoy her almost stream-of-consciousness style, presenting information in a diary-like format.

In this book, the lyrical prose is vivid but felt out of context for a story about deprivation and self-denial.  For example, chapter 6 totally pulled me in and gave me a wide-screen image of Lia and her inner turmoil because it was written in an in-your-face style, holding no punches and not pushing metaphors and similes through Lia’s consciousness.  Other chapters lapsed away from the story, seeming to focus all our attention on the metaphors of Lia’s condition.  I often felt that one metaphor (that of the thorny vines creeping from the floor, up the furniture, and tightly tethering Lia in pain) should have been consistently used throughout the story.  Yes, it was used several times, but then other metaphors were introduced, and only once each, and I was distracted from the rhythm of the story.

I did enjoy the story even though I seem to have found more faults with it than in many of the other books I’ve read.  Anderson’s craft is well-honed, but may have been tested by the subject matter.  The agonies and horrors of anorexia and cutting were vividly depicted, even to the point of providing a glimpse into the psyche of a starved brain.  Perhaps editing the extra metaphors would have been prudent.  So is this book a “snow job?”  I don’t think so.  Although it has its faults, overall the story was believable and chilling, providing me with a little glimpse inside the world of eating disorders.

Because I don’t have expertise in the area of eating disorders, I won’t comment on the impact this book might have on young adults who do or do not have anorexia, bulemia, or other disorders.  By the way, rumor has it that this is a Michael L. Printz Award nominee for 2010.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 8-12

wintergirlsCover Art: A gaunt face peers through a glittery iced window; that, combined with the title, should appeal to teen girls for sure.  The font is interesting, and stands out in white on the dark spine.  I think the cover would appeal to teen girls.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)


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