Book review: Wintergirls – ★★★★★

Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for her haunting young adult novels that explore the dark tumult of adolescence. Although her books focus on issues of rape, suicide and anorexia, she weaves classical mythology throughout her work, adding a new dimension to young adult realism. Wintergirls has been said to be Anderson’s most powerful work, alongside her debut novel Speak.

In my first year of TAFE, our teacher set us an assignment to write about an author who has influenced our work. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover Wintergirls until my second year. Holy hell, how this book has changed me as a writer.

Anderson is one of those writers you can’t graduate high school without reading. I read her first novel, Speak when I was 15. Speak was about a girl entering high school selectively mute, following a traumatic incident over the summer. I have never been entirely ostracized by my peers, nor have I ever been the victim of sexual abuse. As much as I enjoyed Speak, it wasn’t for me.

Wintergirls, on the other hand, is.

Wintergirls is a raw, emotionally taut and psychologically difficult look at anorexia. Unlike most protagonists from this genre (see Fault Within Our Stars, Willow), Lia isn’t some self-pitying, attention seeking girl who holds herself on this weird guilt-pedestal. It is rare for me, but I didn’t hate this character. If anything, I identified with her – she is joins Anya, Buffy, Eleanor and Hermione.

People who label Lia as “a spoiled rich brat”, have obviously never gotten lost on a path of self-destruction. To have warped self-perception. See starvation as strength. See the ugliness in society. To have a loved one betray you, reject you… to lose someone you love. To have the only thing you can control, what you put into your body.

Sometimes in life, especially when your young, you need to be stupid and destructive. Destroy your body. Be with the wrong boy. It’s part of learning and growing up.

The thing about Lia, and her eating disorder, is that growth will be continuous issue for her. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

On top of the characterization, Anderson is a beautiful writer, fluidly weaving metaphor with prose. The best way I can describe Wintergirls, is that this novel is a poem. Powerful imagery. Unique style (that, admittedly, may not be for everyone). Influences from Greek Mythology.

One last note. In terms of style and voice, Wintergirls is one of the strongest books I have come across. It is on par with The Book Thief, if not better. I say this because, like many other readers, I found some of the metaphors in The Book Thief to be a bit… nonsensical. But Wintergirls rings true – or, at the very least, it is the voice I have in my head.

Seriously, if you want to know what my thinking process is like, then read Wintergirls.



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