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Book Cover Image: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse AndersonTitle:  Wintergirls

Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

Narrator:  Jeannie Stith

Audio Length:  7 hours, 9 minutes

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):  “Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.”

Thoughts: This is an absolutely phenomenal book. Never before has the image of anorexia as a battle become so clear. Ms. Halse Anderson portrays this beautifully through well-chosen, almost poetic, words and phrases. The mental anguish of Lia makes itself forcefully known through the crossed-out words and asides and is utterly chilling in its honesty. These crossed-out passages belie the the fight between body and mind and are a clear indicator that hope is not lost. 

Much of the book is spent in flashbacks, as Lia reminisces on scenes that helped foster her anorexia. These memories are a stark reminder that one does not wake up and decide to develop an eating disorder. Rather, in Lia’s case, it takes a regular cast of characters to help her in her downward spiral, from her best friend for making weight loss a competition to her uncompromising, demanding mother to her ignorant father. The one true moment of sanity in her life is her half-sister, making the rest of the novel torturous for the reader as one watches Lia’s descent helplessly. Combine that with her crossed-out pleas for help, and the reader’s impotence becomes even more pronounced. The result is a breathtaking journey into a mind held captive by her eating disorder.

Thankfully, as heartbreaking as Wintergirls is, there exists hope within its pages. Lia wants to battle her demons; this, as previously mentioned, is made abundantly clear through her tone, through the crossed-out words, and through her struggles after Cassie’s death. Yet, Lia’s battles provide a cautionary hope that one can go to the brink of death and recover. This is an extremely important lesson for anyone struggling with his or her own battles with an eating disorder.

On audio, Wintergirls is pure poetry.  Jeannie Stith is a perfect narrator, adding a sense of pathos, of pleading, of desperation to her voice that allows Lia to leap from the headphones and become very real. The crossed-out words on the page come across clearly via audio, through the use of asides, the quick use of a tone to denote the aside, a quickening of speech and a certain breathlessness that aids in effectiveness.  As a short audio program, at just over seven hours, the overall impact of the narrator and Ms. Halse Anderson’s words is a book that is effectively memorable in its exploration of eating disorders and one that leaves the reader in simple silence with tear-streaked face and broken heart.

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