Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Dear blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend's memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her. In her most powerfully moving novel since Speak, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia's struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all-hope.

Review: Right now I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt, it's entirely humid and boiling outside and all the windows in the house are open.  I crave ice cream.  But Wintergirls is impressive (and slightly creepy) in that you can read it in this climate and still feel cold.  It totally leaps off the page.
Wintergirls is not an ideal summer read. It is not for the lighthearted. But it is one of the most disturbing, powerful books I've read in the last few months.

I think Laurie Halse Anderson took a risk with writing Lia the way that she did.  Her narration was cold and distant, like she was really keeping the reader at arms length.  She's one of those characters I didn't really like on a personal level, but totally had sympathy for anyway because of the downward spiral she fell into. I wasn't sure if I was going to like her, because I read Speak, one of Laurie Halse Anderson's contemporary "issues" novels, last year and I couldn't warm to Melinda however much I wanted to.  But Lia was interesting.  She had a personality, and just as importantly she had hobbies, which I think can sometimes get easily forgotten about in books dealing with contemporary issues: There's so much focus on one certain thing or event that defines the story, that the protagonists' background can get totally lost under everything else.  Naturally they're not the driving force of the story, but I still think that if you want to create an entirely likeable, fleshed-out sort of character, small things like hobbies can have a pleasantly surprising sort of effect.

The writing style took a little getting used to, as well.  There are lots of strikethroughs in the text, for example if she referred to her mum, then crossed out the world and referred to her as Dr. Marrigan to try and stop herself from getting too close to her.  It took a few chapters to adjust to that, but when I did it was a fantastic way of seeing into Lia's mind.  For a lot of the book she sounded cold and distant and slightly bitter.  Is it possible to feel like you're stood 100 miles away from someone, and there's just this big frozen wasteland between you, and still feel like you totally understand why they do the things they do and the entirely intense inner functionings of their mind? Lia is like that. I would run up to her and envelope her in a gigantic, entirely crushing bear hug, but I get the impression she would probably shove me away and ask what on earth I was doing. Oh, and, uh, she's fictional, so that also might stand in my way slightly.

But I digress.  The actual use of language, the choice of words and such, was fantastic for the most part.  It was entirely lyrical and flowing,  but there were a couple of points when Laurie Halse Andersen seemed to get almost too deep into all the similies and metaphors,  which made me busy trying to work out what she was saying I kind of forgot what she was actually comparing life/school/herself to in the first place. But aside from those few places here and there, the general flow of the words went pretty much uninterrupted. 

I guess my only real problem with the book was the ending.  Considering the rest of it was so hard-hitting and powerful, it left me feeling a little underwhelmed.  I mean, the actual turn of events were good, but I suppose that the way they were put across wasn't  as satisfying.  I can't really talk about it without giving it away, but it was quite hurried.  Like, once you'd reached the ending, that was the end and that was all there was to it, as opposed to going into more detail about Lia's gradual road on the way to recovery.

Still, I can totally disregard that because the rest of it was so intense, darkly poetic and thought-provoking.  It totally exceeded my expectations, as well, having only thought Speak was okay. But, anyway, this.  Wintergirls is totally unmissable.
In three words: Intense, haunting, cold.
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to gain insight into anorexia and self-harm. Book-clubs. Teenagers. Adults.
Rating: 4.5

1 comment:

  1. Wintergirls was not an easy read nor was it easy to put down. I alternated between pity, depression and down right horror at the things Lia put herself and consequently, her family through. Though this is a teen novel, I would hesitate to give it to just any teen girl - it's something that needs to be digested with a little bit of maturity and sensitivity. But was it a heartbreaking beautiful novel that will stick with me a long time?


Leave a comment if you like. Don't be shy- I don't bite.