“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 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.
There will be spoilers for the end of the novel in this review.
So with this novel, I’m continuing my education as to contemporary novels. Laurie Halse Anderson had the longest line by far at ALA in Chicago, and it seems everyone loves her books. I thought I’d love this one too, in the beginning, but that ended up not being so. Disclaimer: I have never had an eating disorder, nor do I know anyone who has, at least not personally. And at first, I sympathized with Lia, caught in a storm of self-hatred, cut off from her family and her best friend. And in the case of the latter, Lia is cut off forever, because Cassie is dead, done in by bulimia. Lia is anorexic and somewhat high and mighty about her ability to abstain from food, while Cassie chose to binge and purge. At the beginning of this novel, Lia is just out of recovery, but she is not recovered. She is living with her permissive father and his new frazzled wife. She constantly considers the calories in things she’s eating and sometimes gives pretty gross detail to the distortions she’s seeing in food and in her body. Lia does a lot of describing what it was like before her disorder, how her friendship with Cassie progressed then ended, and how Lia’s relationship with her parents deteriorated. The beginning hooked me, and I thought Anderson did a good job presenting the material.
After that, though, I started to get tired of the writing style. It’s almost lyrical sometimes, kind of poetic, and that’s generally not for me. I skimmed near the end due to wordiness. I was also very frustrated because being in Lia’s head made it harder and harder to sympathize with her. In the end, she considers everyone the enemy, is wasting away, and no one even notices. Her father failed really badly here. I found myself really pissed at him throughout the novel and identifying more with her mother. The methods in this book of trying to force Lia to eat seemed suspect too. Yelling at her and shoving food in her face is almost guaranteed to not help, and it doesn’t. Lia only gets worse. There is also a vague romantic storyline that I won’t even detail because I found it extraneous and forced. In the end, it means nothing anyway. And in the end, Lia is carted off again, not because she recognizes that she has a real problem, but because she almost bled out in front of her stepsister. Any time a person is forced to better themselves for the sake of others, it does not work. You have to recognize your problem and fix it because you want to, otherwise you will rationalize yourself right back into your problem. I might not know eating disorders, but I know addiction, and Lia’s thought processes were similar.
I had a hard time identifying with and sympathizing with Lia, and this affected my enjoyment of the book. I wish we’d been in Cassie’s head, who seemed more interesting, personality-wise. I thought the basis of Lia’s recovery was shaky at best. However, I do think this is a defining novel, because at least someone is talking about it, and at least people living with ED have voices in the mainstream, even if those voices must be facilitated by those who only know their pain through research.