Maxwell Baldi's Reviews > Wintergirls

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
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's review
Mar 15, 2009

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Recommended to Maxwell by: Children's Book World, Los Angeles
Read in March, 2009 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson’s nightmarish anorexia novel to be released on March 19, reads like an anorexic girl sees her body: good but never good enough with room for improvement always present and just a little bit fake.
Anderson’s strength from her first novel, bestselling Speak published a decade ago, continues to shine through: outstanding control over language.
Her narrator Lia’s manic stream-of-consciousness style paces the novel perfectly allowing the character’s complex arc to develop and enticing the reader to slug through the early chapters that seem a tad overwritten until viewed in context with the rest of the book.
Anderson introduces her characters with well-coined phrases – Lia is “that girl…the space between [her:] thighs, daylight shining through…the bones they want, wired on porcelain frame” – and laces longer poetic descriptions into the usually choppy prose.
“The snow drifts into our zombie mouths crawling with grease and curses and tobacco flakes and cavities and boyfriend/girlfriend juice, the stain of lies. For one moment we are not failed test and broken condoms and cheating on essays; we are crayons and lunch boxes and swinging so high our sneakers punch holes in the clouds. For one breath everything feels better.”
Lyrical passages that capture the teenage experience alone would make the book worth reading but sometimes Anderson’s language is too clever, her metaphors too esoteric; her sly plot dumps too obvious because she tries to hide them too well.
The grammatical errors employed to reinforce the idea that the narrator is a high school senior who sleeps through or ditches more English classes than she attends, instead serve as annoying distractions and further a nagging feeling that the novel is too contrived to actually be good.
The dangerous tightrope walk inherent in any teen angst novel is difficult to balance: in the battle between cliché and contrived creativity, Anderson maintains a balance well. However, she tends to lilt farthest towards contrived in the most crucial moments of the novel.
Perhaps overly conscious of an audience consisting of teenage girls living in a world of bone-thin models, Anderson has seemingly sewn a five-page didactic conclusion on to a well-crafted narrative. Even while trying to avoid a happily-ever-after ending, she still ends up with one.
Anderson pulls her punches. After setting a character towards ruin and damnation, after crafting a psychosis as complex as any in American literature since Thomas Harris’ Hannibal, Anderson takes her climax and allows it to crash down upon itself.
The stylistic aberration serves only one purpose: to hammer an anti-anorexia message into the reader without any room for interpretation. Anderson’s ending deems any secondary ideas, about the teenage experience or coping with grief or even just the pointed prose, to be irrelevant.
Wintergirls mixes profound observations with the stark realities of teenage life and, despite its disappointing finish, is well worth a read.
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