by Jill Hedgecock, Program Coordinator, Mt. Diablo California Writer’s Club

It’s no secret that American culture equates a woman’s beauty with a thin, shapely body. In Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2010, Speak, reprint edition, paperback, 304 pages $5.87), readers observe first-hand how 18-year-old Lia ’s weight-obsession takes her on a path of self-destruction.

The novel opens with Lia being told by her stepmother, Jennifer, that her former best friend, Cassie, died alone in a hotel room. Halse Anderson masterfully reveals that Lia is no ordinary teen. Throughout the narrative, Lia’s thoughts are revised by crossing out a pleasant description and telling her truth. Here’s an example of this technique: New Seasons, the prison, the rehabilitation center she lived at escaped from her deep-seated unhappiness. Lia’s lack of popularity, lackluster grades in high school, leads her to try to excel at one thing—being the skinniest girl in class. She enlists Cassie to do the same and the two enter into a rivalry that ultimately ruins their friendship. And so, on the night Cassie decides to commit suicide, Lia ignores the 33 phone calls from her friend.

Lia punishes herself for not being there for Cassie by restricting what she eats. She never consumes meals (that she’s usually being forced to eat) without also adding up the calories. Every. Last. One. Even a spear of kosher dill pickle of 5 calories is significant.

Her one and only source of happiness appears to be Emma, her younger stepsister, who she adores and helps shuttle around to soccer practice. Lia endeavors to cheer up when Jennifer, Emma’s mother, puts too much pressure on the girl, who is struggling with long division. Meanwhile, Lia is losing more and more weight. Will she come to terms with her illness or suffer the same fate as Cassie?

Wintergirls is a New York Times bestseller and received the 2010 Best Books for Young Adults award. It is considered suitable for ages 12 and up. While written primarily for a young adult audience, this book will appeal to parents of troubled teen girls or anyone who’s ever wanted to get inside a teenager’s head. Lia’s story will grab you and won’t let go, making it a perfect summer read.

Laurie Halse Anderson has been the recipient of multiple awards for her contributions to young adult literature. National Coalition Against Censorship has honored her for her fight against the censoring of literature. She is the author of the groundbreaking National Book Award finalist and Printz Honor Book Speak. Her other critically-acclaimed YA books include Prom, Twisted, Catalyst, and The Impossible Knife of Memory. She has also authored a number of middle-grade titles including Fever 1793 and the National Book Award finalist, Chains. She and her husband live in northern New York State.