Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Title: Wintergirls

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Number of Pages: 278

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating: C+

Recommended?: No


Wintergirls is a problem novel to its core, a book so relentlessly grim and depressing that virtually no light or comedic relief is allowed to shine though. As someone who really likes the dark stuff, this novel really should have been my cup of tea. It tells the story of eighteen-year-old Lia Overbrook, an anorexic and self-mutilator who’s former best friend Cassie dies alone in a dingy motel room, leaving Lia with some serious survivor’s guilt.

 

Lia is completely focused on pushing away the well-intentioned efforts of her family to help her and starving herself down to a human skeleton, and so far she seems to be doing a pretty job of accomplishing both. She’s also being visited by Cassie’s malevolent and disturbingly intrusive ghost, who wants Lia to join her in death. Lia finds some degree of comfort in a fellow lost soul named Elijah, and a series of events cause her to gradually consider recovery as an option as opposed to the psychological hell she is living.

 

First of all, I wasn’t big on the supernatural element, it didn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the book. It especially seemed like since Cassie’s ghost was trying to convince Lia to kill herself, she should be a guilt- and starvation-fueled hallucination. The idea that Lia really saw ghosts and was really being haunted by her ex-best friend hellbent on talking her into committing suicide didn’t work for me. I also wasn’t a fan of the melodramatic, angsty narrative, which continually refers to ‘when Lia was a real girl’ and the utter artificiality of her family and her life.

 

Lia’s character might have been a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl with anorexia, but she was almost a wholly unlikable character. Her only redeeming qualities seemed to be her love for her step-sister Emma and the remorse she felt over Cassie’s death. Overall, I found Lia to be a very, very hard character to empathize with (I actually found myself having more sympathy for her parent,) and it didn’t help that other than a few hobbies, she didn’t seem strongly developed beyond her diagnosis.

 

This is a pet peeve of mine in ‘problem novels,’ when the issue the author is trying to tackle overshadows the character development. I also wish Elijah’s character had been developed more, since in many ways he was more interesting than Lia. One thing I did find interesting about Lia was that even though its never mentioned by the author, I started wondering after a certain point in the story if she had Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

I’m not sure if the author intended her to give that vibe and maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but I felt like it was a possibility based on her personality and behavior. Overall, I didn’t think Wintergirls was a badly written book, but it didn’t do much for me. I really liked Speak but I wasn’t crazy about either this book or Catalyst, and I’m considering either giving up on Laurie Halse Anderson or taking a break from her for a while, because she feels like a very hit-or-miss author. I think people who are particularly interested in anorexia nervosa might get more out of this book than I did, but I thought that it was just okay and wouldn’t recommend it in general; there are much better books out there.

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