I recently read the novel Wintergirls, a haunting 278 paged novel by New York Times Bestselling Author, Laurie Halse Anderson who likes to watch the snowfall as she writes.
Wintergirls, Anderson’s 16th novel was published on March 19, 2009 and although it has not gained the recognition that some of Anderson’s other novels have (most notably Speak), Wintergirls is a gripping novel that recounts the painfully real story of a girl and her illness.
I decided to read this novel when I stumbled upon it in the library one day. The frozen cover and enigmatic title originally drew my attention and after seeing who the author was, I decided that I had to read it because Laurie Halse Anderson is a truly gifted writer with the ability to address serious topics fearlessly and beautifully through her writing.
Best friends, Lia and Cassie are in a competition. A competition to be the thinnest. But when Cassie pays the ultimate loss (her life), Lia is left behind haunted by the ghost of her lost friend, riddled with the guilt of not being able to save her, and possessed by her disease. Wintergirls tells the heartbreakingly real story of Lia, an 18 year old girl in the grip of a deadly illness and her internal battle to fight her disease and maintain hope.
One of the things that make this novel so powerful is its ability to suck you and and make you see the world through the eyes of an ill girl. When you read Wintergirls, the concept of an eating disorder is not at all unrelatable because it’s described with every word and beautiful description. The narrative voice of the novel is one of a sick person and you really understand the depth of the suffering she endures. With each page, you can truly understand the physiological aspect of the illness and the way it taints and shapes Lia’s perception of reality.
One thing I noticed while reading was that there were sentences sprinkled here and there that had been crossed out. This technique Anderson used was perfect for the story and spoke volumes about what Lia allows herself to say and think and how tight of a hold her disease has on her.
I was struck by one description in particular in Wintergirls. It is one from Lia, describing her relationship with her best friend Cassie and her situation.
“We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers. We danced with witches and kissed monsters. We turned us into wintergirls, when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone” (page 99).
I think this paragraph not only shines light on what kind of a character Lia is but also showcases Anderson’s metaphorical, beautiful, mess of descriptions. With some of the passages of the novel, I found myself really thinking about the words and what they were saying in pursuit of unlocking their meaning and I think this was Anderson’s intention.
On the surface Wintergirls is a story about a sick girl but underneath it’s the account of a girl’s internal battle for control over her life.
Overall Wintergirls is a riveting novel with themes and ideas threaded throughout that make the reader question almost everything and I give Wintergirls 9 out of 10 for its psychologically tiring story and captivating writing.