Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The night before 19-year-old Cassie Parrish died, she called her ex-best friend Lia Overbrook 33 times.
Lia never picked up.
I avoided Wintergirls for a long time. I knew it dealt with eating disorders, and generally, when it comes to Books That Deal With Hugely Upsetting Issues, I procrastinate for as long as possible*. And then there's my relationship with Laurie Halse Anderson's books—while I certainly think they're very well-written and engaging, I find something about them... clinical, and I rarely connect emotionally with the characters. So, in truth, I may have never gotten to this one if I hadn't had to read it for the Cybils.
Which would have been a shame. It's a brave book, and an extremely strong one. Which, considering we're talking about an author already considered by many to be fearless, is saying something. It's unflinching, honest, and ghastly.
Wintergirls is about Lia's relationship and obsession with food, yes. But it isn't just that. It's about grief. About guilt. About family and control and addiction. It's about not just sinking, but actually pushing yourself towards the bottom until you are faced with a decision: to let yourself succumb or to start fighting for the surface.
I'm not recommending Wintergirls because it's About Something Important. I'm recommending it because of the strength of Lia's voice, that Laurie Halse Anderson was able to create a pitch-perfect, amazingly believable voice. She's haunted. Whether that haunting is literal (as Lia believes) or metaphorical (as her therapist believes) doesn't matter—it's the emotion and pain and truth behind it that matters. Mythological imagery abounds, and while Lia never really comments on it, it was easy for me to imagine that she—as a big fantasy reader—noted it. That she saw those images as omens.
But I'm digressing. As usual.
Many readers will dislike Lia, and some will not understand her—but many others will find this book terrifying because in her, they will recognize some part of themselves. Much of what she thinks and believes—though ratcheted up to an almost unbearable degree—will not be unfamiliar. And that's probably the scariest thing about the book.
*And this specific topic even more so than others—yes, it's a hugely prevalent problem, but there are, like, a billion and six YA books about anorexia and bulimia, and it felt like at least half of them came out this year.