As I figure out my blog, I’m trying out new names and timing for different posts, hopefully to keep from having a run of nothing but reviews, then nothing but recommendations, then nothing but existential rants. Maybe adding days of the week to titles will help me get organized?

For my first Monday Review, which, predictably, means you can rely on having a review of a YA book every Monday, I’m talking about Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson’s heartbreaking novel about a girl with anorexia.

Speed Read:

       …When I was a real girl, my best friend was named Cassandra Jane Parrish.

Lia is a Wintergirl. Not quite alive, not quite dead, she monitors her calorie intake with precision and weighs down her body with quarters sewn into her jacket and gallons of water gulped before weigh-ins. She is anorexic, has already completed one stint in rehab, and is on her way to fooling everyone that she is A-OK.

Then, her ex-best friend dies from organ failure. Lia and Cassandra made a pact when they were thirteen to always be the skinniest, and always be the best at controlling their weight. Between then and now, they’ve grown apart but their eating disorders, anorexia for Lia and bulimia for Cassandra, have stayed with each of them. Now, Cassandra is dead and Lia might be next if she keeps on the way she’s going.

But it’s not so easy to just turn around and stop be anorexic, even when her best friend is dead from the very thing that is killing Lia.

The Deal:

I’m not sure I truly understood what a brave book is until reading this one. When it comes to eating disorders in books, there tends to be a “right way” for a character to have an eating disorder, which is to say that the character must hate themselves for it, must consciously struggle against it, and must absolutely understand that the way they treat food is wrong and devastatingly dangerous. Unfortunately, that’s not how thought processes work in real life, which is what makes eating disorders so dangerous.

Laurie Halse Anderson didn’t shy away from really digging into Lia’s mind, courageously writing sentences like:

“Who wants to recover? It took me years to get that tiny. I wasn’t sick; I was strong.” 

A lot of people have taken issue with the fact that Lia is so brazenly against recovery at the beginning of the novel, but it adds a depth and stunning realism that makes her story all the more tragic. Her voice is one of the strongest in YA literature, bringing forth her exhaustion, her sarcasm, her intellect, and her wry observation without seeming heavy handed, and Anderson lets us see enough of Lia’s journey to understand more about eating disorders and the destruction they wreak on bodies. A truly beautiful work that is the definition of courage in it’s story, it’s main character, and the author who wrote it.

Bonus: Book Trailer! Yep, it’s silent. Kind of fittingly eerie.

Aaaaand an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson about her inspiration for the book!


How Far Should You Go:

So it’s December 21st, 2012, and it turns out that the end of the Mayan calendar wasn’t just laziness after all. Everyone is getting on space ships that the Russian government has been hoarding for years so that we can get off Earth before it implodes, but because of limited space you’re only allowed to take one item. If the above sounds appealing to you, I can safely recommend that the one item you take should be this book. It’s beautiful and written almost like poetry, so future human civilizations will know the power of the well written word, and it addresses an issue that, unfortunately, will pervade as long as a certain type of body is valued above healthiness, so it’s good to have around for that. Basically, beauty+brains…no way you can leave it behind on Earth.

The 13/16 Test:

I won’t lie, it’s an intense book, but it’s not intense because of anything that is technically too mature for a twelve-year-old, it’s just very straight forward and tackles the issue head on. As hard as Wintergirls was for me to read, I would definitely give it to an eighth grader. I don’t know of many girls who didn’t know a girl with some type of eating disorder from eighth grade on. I’ve been friends with them, I’ve heard about them, and I’ve had dangerous eating habits at times in my own life, so I think this one is required reading for all of us. Hopefully one day we’ll value it just for the amazing writing, and marvel at the sad reality that was body image in the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Low Down:

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: March 19th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult