Children's Literature - Julia Oltmann
Cassie and Lia are best friends and have been since elementary school. As they grow up, they both develop serious eating disorders and eventually become competitive over who can get the thinnest. Their diseases spiral out of control, causing their friendship to end badly with Cassie judging Lia harshly. One night, months later, Lia receives thirty-three phone calls from Cassie but she doesn't answer because of lingering resentment. The next day, Lia learns that Cassie was found dead in a motel room. From there, the story outlines Lia's emotional battle with guilt and how she attempts to deal with it. Anderson's unique use of language gives the reader an insight into Lia's thoughts and feelings; her torment is demonstrated through cross-outs, italics, and blank spaces. The first-person narrative allows the reader to identify personally with Lia, which is appropriate for a young adult audience and helpful in understanding her character. The dangers and severity of eating disorders are portrayed in a dark yet enlightening way. Overall, this book is a moving account of a teenager's life and struggle to find herself after losing a friend. Reviewer: Julia Oltmann
Anderson, the author of Speak and other award-winning novels for teenagers, has written a fearless, riveting account of a young woman in the grip of a deadly illness.
The New York Times
Anderson…isn't a scaremonger or a schoolmarm. "I never set out to send messages," she has said. "I set out to tell a good story." In Wintergirls, she has done just that. Lia's tale is both painful to read and riveting. Unfortunately, many young women will relate to her despair, and if the novel helps them find solace or hope, all the better. Same goes for their parents.
The Washington Post
Acute anorexia, self-mutilation, dysfunctional families and the death of a childhood friend-returning to psychological minefields akin to those explored in Speak, Anderson delivers a harrowing story overlaid with a trace of mysticism. The book begins as Lia learns that her estranged best friend, Cassie, has been found dead in a motel room; Lia tells no one that, after six months of silence, Cassie called her 33 times just two days earlier, and that Lia didn't pick up even once. With Lia as narrator, Anderson shows readers how anorexia comes to dominate the lives of those who suffer from it (here, both Lia and Cassie), even to the point of fueling intense competition between sufferers. The author sets up Lia's history convincingly and with enviable economy-her driven mother is "Mom Dr. Marrigan," while her stepmother's values are summed up with a précis of her stepsister's agenda: "Third grade is not too young for enrichment, you know." This sturdy foundation supports riskier elements: subtle references to the myth of Persephone and a crucial plot line involving Cassie's ghost and its appearances to Lia. As difficult as reading this novel can be, it is more difficult to put down. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Readers will be absorbed by this gripping tale . . . starred review
Anderson illuminates a dark but utterly realistic world . . . this is necessary reading. Starred review
Children's Literature - Amanda MacGregor
Eighteen-year-old anorexic Lia is already emotionally fragile when she learns that Cassie, her former best friend, has died. Cassie died alone in a motel room and Lia had let the thirty-three incoming calls from her go unanswered that night. Now Lia feels guilty and starts seeing Cassie everywhere, haunting her, talking to her, encouraging her to push her eating disorder as far as her body will take it. Lia notes every calorie she eats, exercises long hours into the night, and sees herself not as sick but as strong. Already hospitalized twice for her anorexia, Lia knows how to trick her family into thinking she is making progress, all the while fading away right in front of them. At five feet five inches tall, Lia weighs ninety-nine pounds and hopes to get down to eighty-five, knowing it will make her want to be seventy-five. Her illness and her struggle over Cassie's death threaten to push her past the point of return. Anderson has created a haunting and startling narrator in Lia, who drags the reader right into the vortex of her constantly spinning mind, her narration shifting between poetic and manic. Lia's agonizing battle with food, her family issues, old memories, and self-mutilation episodes are often difficult to read but also make the book impossible to put down. Fans of Anderson's previous books may find this her most moving, complex, powerful, and important book yet. Cassie may haunt Lia, but Lia will surely haunt readers long after they finish this book. Reviewer: Amanda MacGregor
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—After the death of her former best friend Cassie, 18-year-old Lia slowly spirals toward her own death, drowning in guilt while starving, cutting, and running on a treadmill in the middle of the night in this emotional novel (Viking, 2009) by Laurie Halse Anderson, winner of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award. Her father is in denial and her mother is distant; her stepmother and little sister look on helplessly. Lyrically visual, this starkly truthful and chilling first-person tale is narrated convincingly by Jeannie Stith, who perfectly mimics the sarcasm and angst of a teen girl's struggle with anorexia. An interview with the author concludes the audiobook. Recommended for Anderson's fans and those who enjoy books by Sonya Sones and Ellen Hokins.—Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix Public Library, AZ
Neither therapy nor threats nor her ex-best friend's death can turn Lia away from her habits of cutting and self-starvation. In broken, symbolic and gut-wrenching prose, Lia narrates her hopeless story of the destructive behaviors that control her every action and thought. She lives for both the thrill and the crash of not eating, and any progress she may have made toward normal eating is erased when her former best friend Cassie dies alone in a hotel room. The trauma of Cassie's death coupled with Lia's strained relationship with her parents and stepmother makes her tighten her focus on not eating as she slides into a world of starvation-induced hallucinations. Uncontrollable self-accusations ("Stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat") and compulsive calorie counts punctuate her claustrophobic account, which she edits chillingly to control her world. Anderson perfectly captures the isolation and motivations of the anorexic without ever suggesting that depression and eating disorders are simply things to "get over." Due to the author's and the subject's popularity, this should be a much-discussed book, which rises far above the standard problem novel. (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.
She tells me in four sentences. No, five.
I can’t let me hear this, but it’s too late. The facts sneak in and stab me. When she gets to the worst part
. . . body found in a motel room, alone . . .
. . . my walls go up and my doors lock. I nod like I’m listening, like we’re communicating, and she never knows the difference.
It’s not nice when girls die.
“We didn’t want you hearing it at school or on the news.” Jennifer crams the last hunk of muffin into her mouth. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
I open the dishwasher and lean into the cloud of steam that floats out of it. I wish I could crawl in and curl up between a bowl and a plate. (My stepmother) Jennifer could lock the door, twist the dial to SCALD, and press ON.
The steam freezes when it touches my face. “I’m fine,” I lie.
She reaches for the box of oatmeal raisin cookies on the table. “This must feel awful.” She rips off the cardboard ribbon. “Worse than awful. Can you get me a clean container?”
I take a clear plastic box and lid out of the cupboard and hand it across the island to her. “Where’s Dad?”
“He had a tenure meeting.”
“Who told you about Cassie?”
She crumbles the edges of the cookies before she puts them in the box, to make it look like she baked instead of bought. “Your mother called late last night with the news. She wants you to see Dr. Parker right away instead of waiting for your next appointment.”
“What do you think?” I ask.
“It’s a good idea,” she says. “I’ll see if she can fit you in this afternoon.”
“Don’t bother.” I pull out the top rack of the dishwasher. The glasses vibrate with little screams when I touch them. If I pick them up, they’ll shatter. “There’s no point.”
She pauses in mid-crumble. “Cassie was your best friend.”
“Not anymore. I’ll see Dr. Parker next week like I’m supposed to.”
“I guess it’s your decision. Will you promise me you’ll call your mom and talk to her about it?”
Jennifer looks at the clock on the microwave and shouts, “Emma—four minutes!”
(My stepsister) Emma doesn’t answer. She’s in the family room, hypnotized by the television and a bowl of blue cereal.
Jennifer nibbles a cookie. “I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I’m glad you didn’t hang out with her anymore.”
I push the top rack back in and pull out the bottom. “Why?”
“Cassie was a mess. She could have taken you down with her.”
I reach for the steak knife hiding in the nest of spoons. The black handle is warm. As I pull it free, the blade slices the air, dividing the kitchen into slivers. There is Jennifer, packing store-bought cookies in a plastic tub for her daughter’s class. There is Dad’s empty chair, pretending he has no choice about these early meetings. There is the shadow of my mother, who prefers the phone because face-to-face takes too much time and usually ends in screaming.
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.
“Thank God you’re stronger than she was.” Jennifer drains her coffee mug and wipes the crumbs from the corners of her mouth.
The knife slides into the butcher block with a whisper. “Yeah.” I reach for a plate, scrubbed free of blood and gristle. It weighs ten pounds.
She snaps the lid on the box of cookies. “I have a late settlement appointment. Can you take Emma to soccer? Practice starts at five.”
“Richland Park, out past the mall. Here.” She hands the heavy mug to me, her lipstick a bloody crescent on the rim. I set it on the counter and unload the plates one at a time, arms shaking.
Emma comes into the kitchen and sets her cereal bowl, half-filled with sky-colored milk, next to the sink.
“Did you remember the cookies?” she asks her mother.
Jennifer shakes the plastic container. “We’re late, honey. Get your stuff.”
Emma trudges toward her backpack, her sneaker laces flopping. She should still be sleeping, but my father’s wife drives her to school early four mornings a week for violin lessons and conversational French. Third grade is not too young for enrichment, you know.
Jennifer stands up. The fabric of her skirt is pulled so tight over her thighs, the pockets gape open. She tries to smooth out the wrinkles. “Don’t let Emma con you into buying chips before practice. If she’s hungry, she can have a fruit cup.”
“Should I stick around and drive her home?”
She shakes her head. “The Grants will do it.” She takes her coat off the back of the chair, puts her arms in the sleeves, and starts to button up. “Why don’t you have one of the muffins? I bought oranges yesterday, or you could have toast or frozen waffles.”
(Because I can’t let myself want them) because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.
I point to the empty bowl on the counter, next to the huddle of pill bottles and the Bluberridazzlepops box. “I’m having cereal.”
Her eyes dart to the cabinet where she had taped up my meal plan. It came with the discharge papers when I moved in six months ago. I took it down three months later, on my eighteenth birthday.
“That’s too small to be a full serving,” she says carefully.
(I could eat the entire box) I probably won’t even fill the bowl. “My stomach’s upset.”
She opens her mouth again. Hesitates. A sour puff of coffee-stained morning breath blows across the still kitchen and splashes into me. Don’t say it—don’tsayit.
She said it.
“That’s the issue. Especially now. We don’t want . . .”
If I weren’t so tired, I’d shove trust and issue down the garbage disposal and let it run all day.
I pull a bigger bowl out of the dishwasher and put it on the counter. “I. Am. Fine. Okay?”
She blinks twice and finishes buttoning her coat. “Okay. I understand. Tie your sneakers, Emma, and get in the car.”
“Hang on.” I bend down and tie Emma’s laces. Doubleknotted. I look up. “I can’t keep doing this, you know. You’re way too old.”
She grins and kisses my forehead. “Yes you can, silly.”
As I stand up, Jennifer takes two awkward steps toward me. I wait. She is a pale, round moth, dusted with eggshell foundation, armed for the day with her banker’s briefcase, purse, and remote starter for the leased SUV. She flutters, nervous.
This is where we should hug or kiss or pretend to.
She ties the belt around her middle. “Look . . . just keep moving today. Okay? Try not to think about things too much.”
“Say good-bye to your sister, Emma,” Jennifer prompts.
“Bye, Lia.” Emma waves and gives me a small berridazzle smile. “The cereal is really good. You can finish the box if you want.”
I pour too much cereal (150) in the bowl, splash on the two-percent milk (125). Breakfast is themostimportantmealoftheday. Breakfast will make me a cham-pee-on.
. . . When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages. . . .
No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.
I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.
But I have to drive.
. . . I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed. I laughed. We were perfection.
Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?
The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?
Cassie screamed in slow motion.
When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.
My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number. In pen. Busted me.
Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no—depressed/no—in need of attention/no—in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.
Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into (hell on the hill) New Seasons. . . .
Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins. . . .
Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.
Not Emma’s Bluberridazzlepop cereal. I shiver and pour most of the soggy mess down the disposal, then set the bowl on the floor. Emma’s cats, Kora and Pluto, pad across the kitchen and stick their heads in the bowl. I draw a cartoon face with a big tongue on a sticky note, write YUMMY, EMMA! THANKS! and slap it on the cereal box.
I eat ten raisins (16) and five almonds (35) and a greenbellied pear (121) (= 172). The bites crawl down my throat. I eat my vitamins and the crazy seeds that keep my brain from exploding: one long purple, one fat white, two poppyred. I wash everybody down with hot water.
They better work quick. The voice of a dead girl is waiting for me on my phone.