Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
After reading Wintergirls, I was quite surprised by the nature of some of the debate about the book that has been bouncing around on Goodreads for the past three or so years, particularly some comments that admonish the main character for her behaviour. Now, while I believe that all book reviews are subjective and any one who has read a particular book is entitled to an opinion and they are entitled to react in any way they please to the story and the way it is told, I have to admit I was a little bit stunned that some readers did not seem to understand Lia or where she was coming from, or what the author's intentions were for the character. Is Lia a perfect character? No. Is Lia a good role model? No.
Was she supposed to be?
Of course bloody not. The beauty in Lia's character and in the authors writing is its truth. Lia is not easy to like and her actions stem from the fact that she is in the midst of an episode of a quite serious illness. This is not a romance. This is not a girls own adventure. This tough bloody reading and the author has written it in such a way that its target readership should be able to understand. Provided, of course, that they want to be able to understand it.
Wintergirls tells the story of eighteen-year-old Lia. Lia has suffered from outbreaks of Anorexia Nervosa and often self harms. The author leaves no holds barred as to how serious her situation is and some of it is some pretty heavy duty stuff. Add to the mix the fact that her former best friend has just died under dubious circumstances, alone in her hotel room. On Lia's phone there are thirty-three messages from Cassie, all sent the day she died, begging for help. What follows for Lia is a downward spiral into starvation, self-harming and pushing away all the people that she cares about while she suffers grief and another outbreak of her illness as she searches for a place where she will have to feel nothing at all.
On the whole the narrative is designed to depict the troubled state of Lia's mind. For example, 'Mom' is crossed out when it appears and Dr Marrigan is written beside it, thus illustrating Lia's efforts to distance herself emotionally from her mother. Much is made of the number 33 and there is an entire chapter devoted to the words: Must. Not. Eat.
And, obviously, some of the things Lia does are not very nice. True to life though and it is this which makes her story so bloody interesting. Of course, this also means that her emotions are quite complex, though the author does a commendable job of explaining them to readers. The winter setting is as dark as the themes of the novel and I have to admit, I rather liked the last line of the novel:
I am thawing.
I highly recommend Wintergirls particular to those readers who are looking to be challenged or to understand more about other people and how, sometimes, others can act quite badly and selfishly as a way of hiding their own suffering.