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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
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Mar 31, 2009

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bookshelves: reading-below-the-grade-level-ya
Read in April, 2009

I really don’t understand all the fuss about Laurie Halse Anderson. Sure, she’s good but she is no better than lots of other YA writers, so I don’t get why people would say she’s like the second coming or anything. I actually saw this book on the Good Reads newsletter and decided to read it based on that.
Overall impression: This moving, spot-on portrayal of the feelings of a very depressed adolescent rises above the standard “issue” novels but is marred with some unrealistic world elements and some unnecessary literary pyrotechnics.
The Good:
Point of view: I love the insight we get into how the main character sees the world. From the appearances of her dead friend, to calculating stranger’s BMIs, the author subtly shows us how Lia’s warps viewpoint contributes to her depression.
Portrayal of depression: What makes this novel good for me is that it’s actually more about Lia’s depression than her eating disorder. The cold, empty world that Lia lives in, her pain about her family’s dissolution and her self-hatred show to a disturbingly true depiction of her feelings that’s almost painful to read.
The Bad:
Post-modern posturing: The crossed out sentences, blank pages, etc didn’t really work for me. Maybe teens would be impressed by these “innovative” devices but to me it felt like just that—superfluous flourishes used by a writer who isn’t confident that her story can stand on its own merits. She’s wrong: it can.
Unrealistic elements: Lia doesn’t seem to have any friends. I get it – she’s depressed and withdrawn, but we never really see her interacting with her peers at school or anyone but her dead friend Cassie. If this were just in this novel, I would overlook it, but since this “no friends, everyone silently ostracizes the main character for unspoken reason” theme also popped up in Speak it leads me to guess Anderson is either not confident about her ability to show teen friendships or reluctant to include them for some other reason. Either way, not great for a YA author.
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Kara Ripley I think Laurie Halse Anderson is kinda a big deal in the YA circle because she tackles the big dramatic issues and makes the characters feel really real. Is her writing the best YA writing I have ever seen? It's hard to say. I think it's pretty good (I like the post modern stuff. I think it gets me into the main character's mind. Without it I don't think I would relate as well to Lia.) but of course that is open to interpretation.

It is an interesting point you make about the portrayal of friendship. The characters are very isolated--at least as portrayed here. But this may be intentional rather than a fault of the author. Since the books are told first person, the protagonist may feel isolated and then as a result does not go into depths about the interactions she does have. I never really thought about the lack of friendships in the novels.

As an adult I really liked the book. But I don't know that it is really appropriate for all teen audiences. I think it is written for a certain faction of the population: 16+ year olds who may have struggled with depression but not with an eating disorder (I think it would be more damaging than good for a recovering anorexic to read this).

Liked the review. Made me think. Thanks!

Blurb Kara wrote: "I think Laurie Halse Anderson is kinda a big deal in the YA circle because she tackles the big dramatic issues and makes the characters feel really real. Is her writing the best YA writing I have e..."

Hi Kara - Thanks for your really insightful response. I think you raise a lot of really good points. I agree that the protagonist is isolated. I guess I just read a lot of novels where the main character doesn't seem to have many friends, and to me it seems like sometimes it's more of an oversight from the author than on purpose. Of course, the isolation is main point where, but I like reading teen interactions and it annoyed me a little bit that both of the books I read from her featured people who didn't interact with peers very much.

You made me think too - Thanks!

Anaïs She doesn't have friends because no one understands her. She doesn't interact with people because they are scared of her and for her.

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