Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is easily my favorite young adult novel, and among my all-time favorite books.  In it, she captures the frustration and isolation of being a high school outcast while framing high school society and its often ridiculous rituals in a darkly humorous way. 

Anderson’s Wintergirls similarly captures a sense of isolation and desparation, but in a starkly different manner.  The week after Thanksgiving, eighteen-year-old Lia finds out her former best friend Cassie died in a hotel room, alone, over the weekend.  Her father and step-mother, as well as her surgeon control-freak mother, worry that this news will send Lia — an anorexic who has twice been hospitalized — into a downward spiral.  Lia goes through the required motions, in an attempt to convince them she is fine, while struggling not only with her friend’s death but also the fact that Cassie called Lia’s cell phone 33 times in the hours before her death. 

Lia’s story is largely one played out in her head; her fantastical imaginings, her total withdrawal, her inner narrations show a girl in deep psychological turmoil.  Even Anderson’s chosen style of prose, with crossed-out text and tabbed paragraphs, indicate an internal struggle beyond anything happening outside of Lia.  But her internal struggle causes her to distance herself further from her parents, increasing her isolation and her danger to herself.  Her only lifelines are her eight-year-old step-sister, Emma, and a boy who spoke to Cassie shortly before she died with whom Lia develops a friendship.

I’ve always considered Anderson to be particularly talented at conveying her protagonists’ perspectives to the reader.  This is true with Lia, although in a different way.  Lia holds the world — including the reader — at a distance, trying to protect herself and remain in control, and is therefore a difficult character to relate to; however, Anderson’s use of flashbacks, of Lia’s memories, show us how she has gotten to this point, even if we can’t fully understand why.  These glimpses into her past life, the time when she was a “real girl,” give the reader a sense of who Lia could be again if she were able to overcome the pain she is currently succumbing to.

The humor woven throughout Speak is absent here; Wintergirls is a more mature, solemn novel, with few instances of lightheartedness.  Though this is fitting for both the story and the suject matter, it makes it a slightly less enjoyable read.  I say slightly because Wintergirls really is a mesmerizing book, and Anderson’s ability to plunge a reader into a mindset, a world, unimaginable to most of us — and yet one so important to be aware of — makes it difficult to put down.

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~ by Molly on March 25, 2009.

2 Responses to “wintergirls”

  1. Still haven’t read Wintergirl, but I agree that the humor/internal parts of Speak made it great–I really loved what was going on in Melinda’s head. Even though she was depressed, she had this whole cynical angry thing going on…loved the way she characterized all her teachers, everything going on around her. I’m not sure if I’ll like Lia as much as I did Melinda, but I guess it is a different novel as you point out.

    • Lia’s not nearly as likable as Melinda because you just want to shake her and say, “Why are you doing this?” But she certainly is still able to capture your interest.

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