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Book: Wintergirls

December 28, 2009
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I’ve heard a lot about this book lately, and YA books are always good in a slump. So I read it in one go, last night.

And you know what? It was pretty great.

I had to think about it all day today to figure out what I wanted to say about it. I’ve read (for various reasons) many books about anorexia. This wasn’t exactly original in the ground it covered, but the writing was phenomenal.

“Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it. {…body found in a motel room, alone…}
Someone just ripped off my eyelids.”

Lia and Cassie are the best of friends, bound together by a love of books and secret obsessions. Something happened about six months ago, and then they weren’t friends anymore. And now Cassie is dead, found alone in a motel room. And Lia begins to drown, to freeze, to whittle herself down to nonexistence. To join Cassie.

But is that what she really wants?

The writing in this book is really beautiful, and sometimes kind of brutal. Dancing on a fine line between reality and dream, between realtime and dreamtime, sanity and madness. The writing saves the book, because the story is all too familiar. Girl from well-to-do family is somehow never good enough. Dad is distant. Mom is controlling. Girl feels invisible. Tries hard, by starving herself, to make herself strong and small and perfect. But of course it never works.

The stepmother is the only character which breaks the mold. When Lia is in her downward spiral, haunted by the ghost of Cassie and determined to whittle herself down to triumphantly small numbers, stepmom Jennifer has had it up to here with the crap. When her daughter, Lia’s stepsister, breaks her arm, Jennifer needs Lia to drive to the drugstore to pick up a prescription. Lia hasn’t eaten in who knows how long, and isn’t sure she’s able to drive.


Jennifer reaches into the glass jar on the counter, pulls out an oatmeal raisin cookie the size of my head and shoves it at me. “Can we take the spotlight off you for just one minute, Lia? Put some food in your mouth, quit whining, and go to the damn drugstore.”

I wanted to cheer. I liked Lia, actually. I felt sympathy for her illness and the desire to annihilate herself. But when you’re 18 and you have your whole life ahead of you and sure, you and your family has issues, but who doesn’t? — I have to say I was losing patience with it. On the one hand, I get it. I get what anorexia is. It’s an illness. It’s an addiction. It’s someone doing the best they can to do what they think they have to. But on the other hand, maybe I’ve just outgrown a certain degree of my own body issues, and maybe I’ve had a little taste of what real-world problems are, but another part of me felt like Lia was self-centered, selfish, stubborn, and self-destructive. She wants to die, end of story. Until she wants to live, there’s not much anyone can do about it. I was glad that the book says as much. Lia could go to treatment for a third time, but unless she actually wants to live, really live, nothing’s going to change.

So does she? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The writing was truly beautiful and the story was good, although if you’ve read The Best Little Girl In The Whole World or any other “the thinner is the winner” anorexia books, you’ll not learn anything new here. However, Lia is sympathetic and her family is drawn realistically, and then there’s that awesome writing.

Once I closed the book, I took a deep breath of gratitude that finally, at age 35, I feel mostly at peace with my own body, and can truthfully say I don’t worry about it very much anymore (with very occasional flares of freakout, which thankfully only last a few hours at most). I feel like I waited all through my 20s for this body-acceptance that everyone said would come when you’re over 30. It took a few years, but I’m awfully glad I feel okay about myself now. What a freaking relief, what a burden of self-absorption to have lifted.

Wintergirls doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a beautifully written book and worth reading.

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