I finished SPEAK last week, which instantly became one of my favorite books ever. I was immediately, fiendishly desperate for something similar, and I figured another Laurie Halse Anderson book – another ‘girl with an issue’ book – would be the perfect fix. But after binge-reading WINTERGIRLS over the course of two days (after I finished, my e-reader helpfully suggested I take a break and go outside), I was so frustrated I wanted to throw it down and never look at it again. Like, ever.
WINTERGIRLS is the story of Lia Overbrook, a high school senior with a debilitating eating disorder and several other co-morbid conditions. The story beings when the body of her ex-best friend Cassie is discovered alone in a hotel room. Lia struggles to come to terms with her friend’s death as she also battles her own inner demons.
The thing is, she doesn’t battle her demons until the last 20% of the book (according to my Kobo). The first 80% is everyone in Lia’s life – her mother, father, stepmother, adorable stepsister, therapist) desperately trying to help her, and Lia coming up with more and more clever ways to convince everyone she’s healthy while secretly shrinking and shrinking. Every time there was a big event – her dad threatens to kick her out, her mother tells her the gruesome circumstances of Cassie’s death – I thought it was going to be Lia’s wake up call to take her recovery seriously. But it never was. I understand firsthand the alienating and isolating effect that a serious medical condition can have on one’s psyche, but Lia’s cold and pointblank refusal to accept help made her come-off as selfish and detached.
One of the wonderful things about SPEAK was that I felt Melinda’s pain every step of the way. I felt her humiliation and shame, her depression, her slow recovery. In WINTERGIRLS I just felt frustrated. Frustrated by Lia’s downward spiral, by her parent’s neglect, by Cassie’s stubborn presences in every chapter, long after she’s been buried. I also felt that Elijah’s character was completely unnecessary — still scratching my head as to why he was included in the story at all.
My expectations for this books were high, and I was brutally disappointed. I know Laurie Halse Anderson is capable of telling wonderful stories but this is, unfortunately, not among them.
For those looking to read books on similar issues, I found Perfect by Natasha Friend to be a lovely story about eating disorder recovery.
**I want to add that I highly, highly do NOT recommend anyone recovering from an ED, self-harm, or related conditions read this. As a quick review of the tumblr posts tagged with WINTERGIRLS will tell you, lines and quotes from this book run rampant on pro-ana/mia blogs (which are referenced in the book, btw) and many passages could be considered triggering.**