WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

As part of my Write-A-Nice-Email-To-Your-Favorite-Author campaign (WANETYFA), I’d like to repost the email I wrote to one of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson, author of SPEAK and my new favorite, WINTERGIRLS. But before I do…

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…WINTERGIRLS is a story about two friends (one recently deceased) and the pact that they shared while living, to be thin, thin, thin. It is the story of a teenage girl’s unravelling told in an unflinching, lyrical, in-your-face, first-person account. Here goes my gush, minus the spoilers:

Ms. Anderson,

This is an enthusiastic fan mail from a fledgling writer. It goes like this…

I read Speak a few years ago (twice) and it is so memorable to me still. I felt like it was one of the first YA books that really got both depression and a view of high school through the eyes of someone who is depressed. The cliques and dark humor was fabulous and the way you brought in the rapist as “the monster,” and you didn’t explain it right away–so much tension. The thing I love about your books is that I can read them from cover to cover and then I can come back later and read it again and find something I missed before. They are stories for any age.

I recently read Wintergirls and found it to be so elegant and stunning and sophisticated, with just as much grit and darkness and authenticity. The wording was so lyrical and poetic. I savored so many of your lines, especially in that opening chapter–wow! And the tension never let up. The way Lia describes food and the small details of her everyday life, her incapacity to function, as viewed through her eyes, which makes it seem so gosh darn normal. The distortion was so real and while the reader knows, really knows that she’s killing herself, you almost have to root for her in her weight loss goals as well. People always wonder how people can starve themselves like that. Well, here it is. You really nailed her character and her demons.

On a technical level, the backstory was interwoven so seamlessly, that I had to go back and see how you did it (backstory gives me trouble) and then I noticed the italics and the fairytale feel of it, so spooky and heartwrenching. All of your narrative devices were done well. The strikethroughs–brilliant, her inner-voice–superb. The counting (1-33 phone calls) and other little bits of her psyche peaking through, yes, yes, yes. Even the whitespace and the sections labeled as weights.

Lia’s friendship with Cassie really pulls at the heartstrings and yet it has such a love-hate quality to it. You can at once see how good they were for each other and also how destructive. When Lia’s reflecting on how she flaunted her thinness to Cassie in the dressing room, it reminded me of Ted Hughes poem (“The Other”). It was a relationship of such exquisite pain and you can see Lia really struggling with wanting to join Cassie (in death) and also being repulsed by it. I never doubted the love between those two characters, and the fear.

Having the story take place around the holidays (which is such a hard time for people with eating disorders) and so many of the scenes happening in the kitchen or in places where food is present (the bake sale–brilliant)–it was just so well thought out. I wonder how many revisions you went through, but of course, that’s your secret. Also, the metaphors with weather as it relates to your story, fabu. So many of your metaphors, in fact, lended to your themes. I really liked the car seizing up and how her father scolded her for it. It’s exactly what she’s doing to herself, and yet he chooses to ignore it. Dr. Marrigan–yes! I love the bit where she washes herself of Lia “with surgical soap and a brush for three full minutes.” You captured a woman who can’t stand to be out of control in life and so with her only daughter she “hands her over to a specialist.” And Lia will never forgive her for it.

The hauntings were handled wonderfully. Her lack of energy, how she’s always cold. Elijah leaving her behind because she’s so messed up. I also liked the line of Jennifer’s “It’s not all about you.” So much action-reaction between characters. Lia unraveled so poetically and realistically throughout the story and especially at the end.

All in all, I thought it was superb and I congratulate you on getting it right again and again.

Ms. Anderson then wrote me back a very endearing email, which just proves that super-brilliant-and-fantastic-favorite-writers are people too.

For those interested in learning more about Laurie Halse Anderson and her many wonderful books, her website is: www.writerlady.com

Happy Reading!

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