Lia has just discovered that her former best friend died. Alone. In a hotel room. She knows it is a result of Cassie’s bulimia, but does not know how much the disorder itself is to blame. Lia is anorexic, a cutter, and battles the voices in her head that every day tell her she is too fat, that five more pounds will make her the prettiest, skinniest girl. Her divorced parents (Professor Overbrook and Dr. Marrigan) know that Lia has a problem, but her mother reacts too much and her father not enough. Her stepsister Emma is the only one Lia really cares about. Though Cassie is dead, Lia is haunted by her ghost. Not only by visions of Cassie, but by the competitive game the girls played that led to their eating disorders. As Lia deals with her friend’s death and her own mental anguish, she spirals out of control and further into her self-described borderlands between life and death.
I’m going to say right now, this book is not for the faint at heart. Wintergirls was haunting and disturbing, but gripping and moving. Lia’s descent into madness was real, perfectly depicted. The issues she dealt with are important to every girl. I’m not saying that every girl suffers from eating disorders, but we all suffer from some crisis of body issue throughout our lives. It is impossible to be a girl and not have body issue problems. Though we’re unsure of where Lia’s problems began, we know that she can no longer really explain why she starves herself except to get her body weight down to that “magic number”. It is later in the book when she admits that no number would be small enough until she has shrunk down to 0, to where she has ceased to exist. She struggles with her disgust at her habits (wanting to eat, to stuff herself of cupcakes, pizza, or other goodies), but feels unable to change. At first she thinks that by not eating she is strong, but she grows weaker and weaker throughout her starvation.
Laurie Halse Anderson lines her pages with rich metaphors. While some of them worked, I’m afraid that a lot of them felt overdone. As you get to know Lia, I think they make a little more sense, but still it was hard for me to not be taken out of the writing with the stretches some of these metaphors attempted to take. As I listened to the book, I can’t point to a specific line, but there was one about being dragged down by spider webs that was lost on me. Others worked, so it was perhaps a trope that Halse Anderson should have used more sparingly. Too many and they are no longer effective.
I really did get pulled in by the book, but by chapter 44, I was expecting it to be almost over. I felt that she had worked her way to a resolution, to Lia’s realization and a doorway for her to go through where she would want the help her family were trying to give her. Instead, when I looked down at my iPod, I saw there was nearly two hours left of the audiobook. Again, the book was beautiful, but perhaps overlong. I felt much like Lia. Beaten down by the message in the book, by the words in Lia’s head, by the pain she was feeling. I, like Lia, wanted to escape that pain and be lifted back up. But Wintergirls wanted a little bit more of my time and my sanity.
I did love the audiobook narration. Lia sounded like a teen, her voice seeped with anxiety and fear of the unknown. When I found out that the narrator, Jeannie Stith, looked more late-20s than late-teens, I was actually shocked. This is how a YA novel should be narrated. The listener should think she is listening to a 17 year-old telling her story, rather than a mature middle-aged woman reading lines. There were points in the book when I thought my iPod was malfunctioning; beeps and noises coming out of it that I could not place. It took me a while to realize that these were the noises that Lia heard in her head. The effect, once I realized my speakers were ok, was extremely well-done. It took me that much further into Lia’s story, which is probably why I wanted to escape. I could escape easily; Lia could not.
This was my first Laurie Halse Anderson book, but Wintergirls impressed me enough to say that I will be reading more of Halse Anderson’s works. I just have to work up the courage.
Audiobook Rating: 9/10