book review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I just finished reading an amazing novel by the author of Speak.

This is a raw and very true to life account of one girl’s struggle with the death of her best friend, eating disorders, difficult family issues, and cutting.

Lia and Cassie have been best friends since third grade. Inseparableand funn loving practically twins though a year apart. When they had the teen years things changed. Pressure from home and school, emotions and their changing bodies lead them to eating disorders. Cassie bulimia and Lia Anorexia.

At the beginning of this book Lia is sex months out from her second stay at an eating disorder treatment center. She hasn’t spoken to Cassie in a year.Lia is told that Cassie died over thanksgiving weekend in a motel alone. Lia feels extremely guilty as Cassie had called her, after a year of not speaking to her, 33 times the night she died. Lia did not answer. This guilt becomes stronger and stronger and fuelss her downward spiral.

Lia has a very d difficult family background. Her parents divorced a few years back. Her father is a history professor and writer. Her mom is a heart surgeon. Her father had several affairs and eventually settled down with Jennifer. A woman obsessed with having the perfect home, being the perfect housewife and mother though too busy to actually do things like bake cookies or hear that her daughter doesn’t like sports. She has a young daughter Emma in third grade I think. Lia calls Emma her “almost sister” and it’s clear she loves her very much.

Cassie’s death brings back all the experiences Lia has had with her friend. The worst being how Cassie was told by a therapist and her parents to not be her friend anymore, and went through a few different episodes of trying to connect but then dumping her. All that kept playing in her head was the fact that Cassie had reached out for help and no one but her knew it.

In spite of being in treatment twice, Lia is not very envested in recovery. She feels a lot of pride around being “in a bone cage” as she puts it, and seems to live for the number going down on the scale wanting to reach a new lower goal every week. It’s clear that all she’s doing is hiding her behavior rather than wanting to reach out for help at all. Her stepmother Jennifer weighs Lia every week but Lia tricks the scale withwearing weights drinking lots of water and at one point even tinkering with the scale itself.

So her eating disorder behaviors were barely being kept in check before this point. But Cassie’s death sets Lia on a downward spiral. She comits to exercising obsessively again, only eating a certain amount of calories a day and cuts more. She cuts to release all the emotional pain and feelings she has no voice for. She has to hide her cuts under her clothes as her parents do not understand that aspect of her behavior.

Lia sees a psychiatrist once a week, but again it’s clear she does not want to open up to her. She sits in silence for much of their sessions.

As if all this weren’t enough, Lia gets a phone message from a mysterious guy at the motel Cassie spent her last night in. Lia meets him. He has a sense about her secrets and she feels a connection with this e exentric stranger. Who has a tattoo of a biker mann on his arm, and tells her to “pay attention to her visions.”

He is the only person she opens up to somewhat in the end before hitting rock bottom.

The story takes place mainly from this time after thanksgiving to Christmas. In which time Lia’s condition mentally and physically gets worse and worse. And strange things start to happen. Lia can hear Cassie talking to her. See her, smell her, feel cold air when she’s around. She believe Cassie is haunting her. And wants her to die too.

Things reach a crisis point where Lia ends up in much the same situation Cassie was in her last moments, yet she has some last bit of will or hope or something that makes her take the steps needed to help relase Cassie from her ghost self, and get the help she needs.

This seems a really realistic story. The issues of eating disorders and self-harm, and reasons for them are true to life. All characters are well developed. And the story has a hopefull and realistic ending. Ultametily showing that recovery is truly up to the person really wanting it to work. Many people I’m sure have similar experiences to Lia and Cassie. At the end of the audio version of this book Laurie herself is interviewed. She reads a poem about her other book Speak which is very powerful. Wintergirls has become extremely popular and so wonder others thoughts on it.

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