Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Before I begin and disappoint my reader, I do want to say I'm limiting my discussion of this novel if only because I'll revisit it once the semester starts. When I do, I'll post discussion/assignments here just as I have before.

Wintergirls (2009) is in the same vein as Speak (1999) and Catalyst (2002), though I don't think it occurs at the same school as these two novels (Melinda, from Speak is mentioned on page 150-something of Catalyst). In this novel, the title character, Lia, is struggling with anorexia and with the death of her bulimic friend, Cassie. Anderson, in an interview on the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)/ podcast Text Messages talks about the novel and about how she tried to discuss the topic in such a way that the novel didn't become a guide to those teens with eating disorders.

I did want to mention that Anderson made an interesting stylistic choice, in using strikethrough text, in this first person narrated story. I read some criticism of using this technique to get into Lia's head by another blogger a few days ago (and it's my luck I can't find that blog again). The gist of what the blogger said was that it takes away from the story. I must disagree. If Lia's emptiness, which she uses as a synonym for strength, comes from her self-denial, then the reader must be allowed to see that inner struggle. Without the strikethrough text, readers don't see Lia's fight with herself, between what she really wants, and what she wants. It a way, it reminds me of William Faulkner's Light in August where characters are thinking "one thing" and ... thinking something else in their subconscious altogether...

Also the blogger argues that Lia's use of figurative language wasn't authentic--especially not for a 17-year-old high school student. I have to refute with: if she's a reader, it's possible that the language used in Lia's head very well be authentic. If my notebooks from that time in my life still existed, the tone and metaphor use would be similar. Because of this, the language makes it easy for me to relate to and identify with Lia.

I think I'm going to leave you with a link to the poem that Anderson read at the end of the podcast. This one, her reading of it, made me tear. Not good when you're driving down I-10, but a moving poem nonetheless.

For more information about Laurie Halse Anderson, click here for her website, or here for her LiveJournal.

Anderson, Laurie Halse.(2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

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