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Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review - Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

A few words: So this is my first book review - yay for getting my behind in gear! Better late than never, right? I'm hoping to do one of these per week in the future, but we'll see how it goes. After seeing the rating systems others have for their reviews, I decided to do mine a bit differently. I'll be giving two ratings - one from a reader's perspective and one from a writer's perspective. Now at some level these ratings are intertwined - most really good books are well written. But as we all know, there are plenty of good stories out there that are terribly written. In truth, there's a huge difference in how you look at book from a reader's perspective and a writer's perspective. Writer's pay more attention to characterization, plot and the writing itself, whereas readers generally just want a good story they can connect to. Hopefully this system will help differentiate the two. Linky for my review system is here.

Book Review 1: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
 From the inside cover:

"Dead girl walking", the boys say in the halls.
"Tell us your secret," the girls whisper one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. Now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way --thin, thinner, thinnest -- maybe she'll disappear altogether.

On the reader's side: Wintergirls is a powerful depiction into one girl's struggle with anorexia. But it's not really a story about anorexia, it's a story about what drove Lia there in the first place. Very little attention is devoted to how she drags herself out of her self destructive behavior. And we don't get to see the difficulties she encounters once on the other side. What we do get to see is that Lia isn't really a likable character. She's spoiled, lazy, lies constantly, puts all the blame on her parents and is not really interested in seeking help.When we see how much her parents want to help her and how sweet her step-sister is, we feel like we want to shake this girl silly and tell her to snap out of it. But that's the compelling part of the book. We can't. And it's that feeling of frustration which makes the book so good. I have to admit that the latter half of the book had me crying. I did put it down once in a while early on, but not after I got past the halfway mark.You just have to see what's going to happen to Lia, even if you don't like her.

Score: 4.5 because it was a little slow in the beginning.

On the writer's side: The thing that Laurie Halse Anderson does better than 99% of YA writers out there? Voice. Really she couldn't get away with writing a book like this without it. This book is all about voice and characterization - it's literary so I suppose it has to be. Certain events happen that plunge Lia further into her downward spiral, but really the events are trivial to the bigger picture.  Lia is in a delicate state as it is when we arrive on the scene and the things that trigger her relapse into anorexia are circumstantial.The whole story is about Lia's character, her inner struggle and how she got there, something which Anderson excels at.

Adding to that, Anderson's imagery is beyond comparison.There were times when I was simply in awe of her choice of words and metaphors. Anderson also isn't shy about trying something new. There are places in the book where she literally scratches out Lia's thoughts and re-writes them, just as if we were reading her diary (although technically the book is not in diary form). Some people may have found this annoying, but I actually liked it. Though, I have to admit that it was a little irritating to look at a page and a half of: MUST. NOT. EAT. repeated over and over. Waste of paper, IMHO.The pacing could have been better, but in the end it's forgivable because the climax is so good.

Writer's score: 5 characterization, voice and imagery outweigh the little nitpicks


Remilda Graystone said...

You know, I saw this book earlier this year and was hesitant to put it on my To Read list because I just don't like reading about things like these, but now that you've told me about her writing style, I'm at least going to have to check it out.


I like your rating system, by the way. It's brilliant.

Annie McElfresh said...

Thanks for the review!!

Horserider said...

I agree, it's an awesome rating system! I also agree about the page and a half of "Must. Not. Eat." It was so irritating. I liked the crossed out bits. It showed what she REALLY thought, but what she wasn't allowing herself to think. If that makes any sense at all.

Tahereh said...

i ABSOLUTELY agree with your review of this book. LHA is a genius with words, with voice, with prose, with sentences that make me want to cry because they're just. that. good. <-- & that was my perspective as a writer.

as a reader --> i too thought the beginning was very slow, and i found lia to be annoying and ungrateful and i couldn't understand why she wouldn't persevere past the difficulty of her parents' failed marriage. i wanted her to persevere, but she just kept crumbling. but then again -- you hit it on the head ONCE MORE -- that's the pull of the book.

really, truly, couldn't agree more.

and i LOVE that you differentiate between reader and writer. because there is *such* a difference.

seriously great review.

thanks so much for sharing!!

Angie said...

Thanks all for the comments on my first book review. I'll have to do more of these in the future. It's also helpful to know that my rating system is to everyone's liking, so I'll stick with it.

Tahereh - thanks so much for the thoughtful post. :)



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