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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Excellent novel about grief and pain and eating disorders -- but it takes a long time to get to the hope part

Anderson, Laurie Halse (2009)  Wintergirls  New York:  Speak

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Opening line:  So she tells me, the words dribbling out, with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.

Lia thinks she is fine.  Her parents are divorced, she hates school, her best friend died, alone, in a hotel room and now Liao is seeing that friend, Cassie, haunting her.  Also, Lia is starving herself to death.  But she is fine.  Even as her weight continues to drop and she becomes dependent upon cutting to dull the pain of being alive, Lia is confident that everything will be fine.  It is when she lets down her little sister, possibly the only person in the world that she cares about, that Liao understands how broken she is and sets about trying to repair her life.  But it might well be too late.

Anderson captures what seems to me to be the authentic voice of someone who has an eating disorder.  I don't know that for sure because I don't have an eating disorder myself, but Anderson did extensive research and Lia's articulate and poetic voice seems to nail it.

This was a hard book for me to read as a dad.  The parents in Lia's life are certainly not perfect, but they care about her, they would move heaven and earth to save her, and yet, there is nothing they can do.  That was hard to read without wanting to scream at Lia or force feed her or lock her up somewhere safe.  This was a book that taught me a lot about myself, including how all my ideas about letting a child grow in responsibility by giving them freedom, all those things are things I would jettison in a moment if one of my daughters was in danger of hurting herself.

I don't know what it would be like to read this book as a child.  I know some adult readers have suggested that it is not a good book for high school girls because it could trigger a relapse in those who have eating disorders, it could teach those who are claiming to be better but are actually still counting calories and exercising at night some new tricks to keep the desperateness of their situation hidden. 

There is a bit of vulgar language, but not anything that would make the book likely to be challenged -- the challenge is much more likely to be about the eating-disorder content.  But it is a well-written book, and I think it would be a good one for high school students to read -- maybe in the context of a phys ed or health class?

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