Rating: 2 stars (barely)
I would usually try to wait a few days before writing a review, but I know if I sit on this one for too long, I’ll talk myself out of being 100% honest.
I’m so upset. I really wanted to like this book! And I tried so freaking hard. I really, really did. Two stars feels like an absolute betrayal to Laurie Halse Anderson, because she wrote one of my absolute favorite books: Speak (Speak). After reading Speak, I nearly penned a letter to Anderson herself to thank her for writing something so damn important into existence. Really, the story meant so much to me and has stuck with me all of these years later. So I wanted to believe that I would love Wintergirls, too. And I gave it the benefit of the doubt, even when I immediately hated it and was bored out of my mind. But I have to be honest. All of my notes on this book are just flat out negative, or trying to be positive but are still ultimately… well, negative.
Alright… venture on if you still care to hear me complain about a book that most everyone loves.
Let me just start off by saying that yes, I know that this may be considered a taboo topic. Anything I say in this review is not meant to be judgmental, demeaning, or heartless in any way to anyone who suffers from, or knows someone who suffers from an eating disorder and mental illness. My issue with this book was not about the eating disorder or the mental illness. The one good thing I wanted to say about this read was that I felt like it did a good job portraying the reality of both of the aforementioned illnesses. Anderson didn’t take the easy way out and glorify or romanticize anything. And for that reason alone, I wanted to give this book a higher rating. But the issue for me was the way it was written, not the content. I do know that my opinion is going to a largely unpopular one for this book. It has a 3.99 rating on Goodreads because there are a lot of people who love it. And as much as I wanted to be another one of those people, I’m just not. I don’t want to defer anyone from giving this book a chance, because I believe that there must be some redeeming qualities in this book if so many people adored it. I just couldn’t seem to find them.
My first issue with this book was how cluttered the story line felt. It was soooo hard for me to connect to Lia, even though I usually fall for these sort of characters easily, and want to love and protect them. Lia wasn’t unlikable for me, and I did want her to get better, but I felt like the way that Anderson wrote her was just too sloppy. Her thoughts were all over the place and she rambled on sometimes about things that just honestly didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
There was also this whole striking through the text thing. I get that this was supposed to be a tactic to show us the conflicted thoughts going on in Lia’s mind, but damn did they get on my nerves! If something is crossed out, I’m going to assume I just don’t need to read it. I know that’s not the case in this book, so I had to force myself to read every crossed out word even though it felt so, so wrong.
And the constant attempts at poetic metaphors were exhausting to me. Anderson was actually really creative with these, and I probably would’ve enjoyed them a lot had it been in a different setting. But it always felt like it was trying too hard for me. Lia’s thoughts can’t really be that damn constructed…
pg. 52 (paperback)
“As I step on the scale, Jennifer warns Emma about ice-cream.
As I step on the scale, Emma fears vanilla.
As I step on the scale, Dad swings his racket and scores.
As I step on the scale, Mom slices open a stranger.
As I step on the scale, shadows edge closer.
As I step on the scale, Cassie dreams. ”
That was actually painful for me to type. Get what I mean now? Here’s another example:
pg. 138 (paperback)
“My parents bounced the blame back and forth, bouncing Lia bean, sick starving Lia bean, what is wrong with her, it’s all your faultfaultfault.”
No, I didn’t mess up the punctuation. That’s the way it was written.
Another thing that irked me to no end was that for almost two entire pages, Anderson literally just typed: “Must. Not. Eat. Must. Not. Eat.” over and over and over again. Is Lia chanting this to herself? Maybe. But Anderson doesn’t clarify, so how the hell am I supposed to know?
Also, ::What!/Is!/This/Craziness?:: I could not stand reading anything with that whole wacky format because all I could do is try to determine exactly why Anderson even put it in there. It seemed to be just more thoughts of Lia’s, so why weren’t they typed normally? I really couldn’t tell ya.
To wrap this awfully mean review up, let me say one thing that I did find good about this story that branches out from the portrayal of reality when you have an eating disorder: the relationships between Lia and the people in her life. I adored Lia’s relationship with Emma. Emma brought out the best in Lia and made her almost like a different person. Jennifer was an odd add to the mix to me, and she kind of went back and forth between hot and cold. She was a loving, accepting stepmother who sometimes said the wrong things to the stepdaughter who she just wanted to get better and healthy again. I actually liked her. It was pretty evident that the relationships with both of Lia’s parents were strained and they weren’t mentioned even nearly as much Emma and Jennifer. Lia’s dad is there, but not really, and she has a very big grudge against her mother, though the readers do get a little resolve there. I thought Anderson did good with the surrounding characters. Except for Cassie. I don’t even know what to say about her, but we won’t get into that.
I just want to express how heartbreaking and stomach wrenching it has been to be so brutal towards one of my favorite authors. I swear I gave it my best chance, but the book just did not click for me. Maybe I’ll reread Speak to get over it.