I always know I'm in for a special treat whenever I begin a book written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Somehow she gets into the hearts of her characters and pulls their problems, hopes, and experiences to the surface bit by bit, dragging the reader along until you realize you've been inside the very skin of the characters. So it was with Wintergirls, her newest novel and quite possibly her finest to date.
Wintergirls is the story of anorexic Lia, whose former best friend Cassie is found dead in a hotel room. Despite the estrangement between the girls, Cassie, obviously drunk and in pain, repeatedly called Lia's phone in the hours before her death; Lia had ignored the calls and the guilt threatens to consume her. Both girls had suffered from eating disorders, and Cassie's ultimately led to her death; even knowing this, Lia finds herself falling back into the old patterns of not eating and over-exercising, hoping to find control over one aspect of her life. We can almost visibly see Lia's spiral into desperation in her feeble attempts to reach out to someone totally unsuitable and her denial that she is hurting herself or anyone she loves.
Wintergirls is a realistic story and one that many people might identify with, even if they haven't experienced an eating disorder. It's incredibly hard to be vulnerable, and Anderson captures the terror and angst Lia feels brilliantly. I particularly liked the relationship between Lia and her step-sister Emma because it showed that there was yet hope in Lia's life. I was a little dismayed that cutting was also highlighted but perhaps cutting is also a hallmark of anorexics (since I'm unfamiliar with anorexia's specifics). But this book is so absorbing and well-written on so many levels that there really is nothing to complain about. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.