Laurie Halse Anderson
I recently went on a bit of a splurge and bought myself one of those fancy new-fangled iPads. Mostly I've been downloading books and using it as an e-reader, which makes me think I probably should have just bought a kindle, but I'm sure I'll get into the full functionality of it soon enough. I'm pretty slow when it comes to technology, I admit it. It's just so amazing that I can download a sample of a book, read it, and then if I like it, download the rest of the book. All at the tap of a button. Frankly, it's a bit dangerous for my bank account and I probably need to start exercising a little more discretion in my purchases.
That however, is not a comment on Wintergirls. I've been on a bit of a hunt recently for YA authors that I haven't previously heard of, and Laurie Halse Anderson's name cropped up quite a few times in my internet browsing. I don't generally gravitate towards EATING DISORDER novels. It's a bit like novels that are about DRUGS, or DIVORCE, or teenage girls who are in INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS. Reading them is a bit like continuously being hit over the head by the author a baseball bat, with whatever the key message of the novel is painted on the side, just in case you're not getting it. It's annoying and painful. And let's face it, there are plenty of sophisticated teen readers out there, so odds are, they are annoyed too and there goes your target audience.
The first thing I will say about Wintergirls is that it's incredibly confronting. Anderson does an amazing job of getting inside the head of eighteen year old Lia, who suffers from anorexia nervosa. Anderson clearly did her research, and did it well. I consider myself a fairly empathetic person, and I still had to work pretty hard at times to remind myself that Lia was being controlled by a disease - she was not sound of mind and making choices simply to be difficult and make life hell for her family.
The novel opens with Lia finding out about the death of her friend Cassie - who died alone - in a motel room. RIght away, you know what the tone is going to be. Lia lives with her present-but-absent father, stepmother and stepsister and has an extremely dysfunctional relationship with her mother, whom she refers to as Dr Madigan, rather than Mum (or Mom - the book is American). Wintergirls is dark, there is no getting around this. Lia's fractured family life and fractured self-image, result in her walking through life in a haze of denial and obsession.
Not all readers will like Anderson's way of writing. There are a lot of, as the author puts it, "stylistic quirks." I think the author made some great choices in this regard and those quirks really helped me, as a reader, feel what it was like to be Lia, and inside Lia's body. It's a very sensory novel, Lia's emotional and physical pain is pretty visceral.
While this a YA novel about a SERIOUS ISSUE, Anderson manages to avoid a lot of the cliches found in this kind of novel. There is one huge cliche, that I was absolutely sure would appear at the end of the novel, and I was absolutely delighted to be wrong. And thank god, because that particular cliche is not the answer to every teenage girl's problems. I can't tell you what it was without spoiling it for you, but should you read it you'll know what I'm talking about. Hopefully, you might just breathe a sigh of relief too...