I’m not a big fan of issue books, so when Penguin announced their new Point of View program with books on ‘difficult topics,’ I cringed a little. My inner rebel (okay, so she’s not so inner) smelled an after-school special. But some of my favorite writers were featured in Point of View, so when I saw the little display at my bookstore, I picked up a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, along with a snazzy discussion guide.
This book is dark and painful and beautiful. We dive into Lia’s world of self-torture, right after Lia’s best friend Cassie kills herself in a nearby motel room. Lia tries to assure her father, step-mother, and mom that she’s just fine, but inside she’s really unraveling like one of her knitting projects. Lia is anorexic, and cuts herself.
The book has a brutal insight into Lia’s mental deterioration as she starves herself to be clean inside, dropping pounds every day: “At 099.00 I think clearer, look better, feel stronger.” Even more gripping is watching the adults around her struggle to make her stop and get her to eat, and watching the effect Lia’s anorexia has on her stepsister Emma.
As Lia’s struggle continues, she tries to come to grips with her best friend Cassie’s death—Cassie, whose ghost haunts Lia, taunting her to win their contest to be the thinnest.
The writing is true Laurie Halse Anderson: direct, beautiful, painful, and gripping. It hurt to read this book, hurt to watch Lia’s descent into anorexia, and how she unwittingly dragged everyone down with her, including her little stepsister. My only minor gripe is that the ghost aspect seemed a little forced at times—but this was a mini objection in a powerful book.
I watched a lot of hidden anorexia in my high school, growing up. And I imagine this hasn’t changed much. A girl in my high school, like Cassie in Wintergirls, even killed herself over her struggle with bulimia—and that’s something that haunts all of those who knew her forever. Could we have done something?
So I’m coming back from my no-issues-in-books stance. Maybe we need books like Wintergirls to expose things like anorexia, even if it’s hard. Maybe because it’s hard.