So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.
She tells me in four sentences. No, five.
I can't let me hear this, but it's too late. The facts sneak in and stab me. When she gets to the worst part
...body found in a motel room, alone....
...my walls go up and my doors lock. I nod like I'm listening, like we're communicating, and she never knows the difference.
It's not nice when girls die.
Wintergirls is Laurie Halse Anderson's latest book. And it doesn't disappoint. (Or should I amend that to say it didn't disappoint me?!) I would never say that it was better than her previous books--Speak; Fever, 1793; Catalyst; Prom; Twisted; Chains, because each of her books are so different. And it's not really fair to compare. How is this one unique? Well, it's just as powerful as Speak. But I think it is even more haunting. The prose packs a lot. In a strange way, we learn quite a bit by what isn't said.
Meet Lia. She's anorexic. Her problem--through her eyes--is that adults keep interfering in her life. Keep forcing her to get treatment. Keep forcing her to eat. There are plenty of people who care about her: her mom, whom she calls Dr. Marrigan, her dad, her stepmom, Jennifer, her half-sister, Emma. But she doesn't have ears to listen or eyes to see what she is doing to herself, her body, her family.
When we first meet Lia, she is learning the news that her former best friend, Cassie, has died. Alone. In a motel room. What we learn soon after is just the beginning of the haunting story: on the night Cassie died, she called Lia's cell phone thirty-three times. But Lia never picked up. Would picking up have made a difference? Could she have prevented this death? Lia doesn't know. But the thought that her friend died a horrible death--a painful death--alone and scared...doesn't sit well with her. How could it? The book traces Lia's reaction to this death and follows her journey down the same path...
Here is Lia's story in her own words:
Girl is born, girl learns to talk and walk, girl mispronounces words and falls down. Over and over again. Girl forgets to eat, fails adolescence, mother washes her hand of Girl, scrubbing with surgical soap and a brush for three full minutes, then gloving up before handing her over to specialists and telling them to experiment at will. When they let her out, Girl rebels. (68)
Wintergirls is a painful book to read. No doubt about it. Lia is a scary narrator--an unreliable one. Here is a narrator that just doesn't get it. She's incapable of getting it, comprehending just how close she is to meeting Cassie's fate. In many ways it is an ugly book because eating disorders are ugly. There's nothing glamorous about skeletons and starvation and bodies shutting down. Painful as it may be, I think it is a good read. I loved that Laurie Halse Anderson so thoroughly develops these characters. Not just Lia, but her family as well. I got a real sense that her family loved her, worried about her, struggled with her. It didn't feel like an after-school special to me. It didn't feel fake and phony. It felt hauntingly real.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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