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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson
This girl shivers and crawls under the covers with all her clothes on and falls into an overdue library book, a faerie story with rats and marrow and burning curses. The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close.



"What do you think?" asks the little bit of text above GR's review box and my answer is that the above quote from Wintergirls sums up what a good story does. How it isn't just an escape from the ugliness, but almost like a magical talisman against painful stuff.

I read this during a really bad time, and ironically, even though the subject matter is pitch-black, dark, it was a weird comfort. I suppose because reading about someone else's angst is oddly cathartic.

Lia is a self-described Wintergirl, a young woman who has meticulously starved herself into a state of skeletal icy, without enough fat on her body to keep out even the slightest chill. She has been recently released from an in-patient treatment program for eating disorders, and is currently living with her father, stepmother and half-sister, when she gets word that her best friend Cassie was found dead in a hotel room.

Cassie was also a Wintergirl, although her path to unhealthy skinny was though bulimia. A few months before, Cassie inexplicably broke off her friendship with Lia. And then, out of the blue, on the night she dies, she calls Lia's cell phone 33 times.

Unfortunately, Lia had turned her phone off, and doesn't find the sad litany of voice mails, Cassie's pleas for help, until a day after Cassie's death.

Haunted by guilt and rather literally, the ghost of Cassie (a hallucination, but very real to Lia), she descends deeper into her destructive psychosis, not only proving her "strength" by not eating, but also engaging in cutting her own flesh.

Wintergirls's protagonist doesn't have the wit of Speak's protagonist, but her hallucinatory, dreamlike view of the world makes for an engaging read, nonetheless.

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 ...



As with Speak, the narrator has become trapped in a pattern of silence. Somewhere along the line, she learned that talking about your anxieties wasn't acceptable and learned to bottle them up, or in this case, find a dangerous outlet for pent-up pain. And in time, silence has become such a habit, that even when she wants to communicate, nothing comes out.

Her parents are, quite frankly, a big part of the problem. Mom is a respected heart surgeon who knows more about her patients than Lia; and Dad, similarly, a professor and award-winning writer of history books.

Once again, I find myself not sympathizing with the parents, even though, given my age demographic, I should. Parenting isn't easy. And it's so easy to let frustration drive you to say things you shouldn't; things that can't be unsaid. Worse yet, none of us really knows when an offhand comment, something forgettable to us, will bury itself into a child's psyche, spreading a kind of emotional rot that lasts well beyond childhood.

Even though Lia's parents are terrible parents, I could empathize with their situation. Here they have an almost grown daughter, who is steadfastly determined to kill herself slowly, and they are nearly powerless to do anything. They take her to the hospital when she collapses, bring her home when the doctors say she is "stable," and then live on pins and needles, hoping she doesn't repeat the cycle again.

But they are really shitty parents, nonetheless.

Powerful story that speaks volumes of the self-loathing and destructive body image that torments not only teens, but women of all ages.