Lia and I are self-doubters. We are our own worst enemy. We participate in constant self-deprecation and spew mental vitriol at ourselves for not attaining an impossible perfection. We are both, in many ways, self-harmers.
The world, through our eyes, is made of many moving parts, all of which are mostly tiring. You leave pieces of yourself everywhere you go and with every person you meet. So where is the whole?
Lia: A teen damaged in some of the worst ways possible. She has been through trauma and lives trauma. She hates herself. She hates the thought of being fat. She has anorexia nervosa which is honestly just the tipping point of her troubles. She is fueled by extreme guilt over the death of her friend Cassie who she’d been estranged from for six months. They were estranged because the people around Cassie told her that Lia was a bad influence, when the truth was that the girls were really a bad influence on each other, with Cassie influencing the most. Cassie’s last act before her death was an attempt to reach out to her old friend. In her desperation, she called Lia 33 times, leaving – I believe – just as many messages. This final act haunts Lia for a long time.
Lia doesn’t eat. She measures calories and consumes only what is needed for bare bones survival. She develops an obsession with her caloric intake and finds anything outside of that disgusting and shameful.
Lia lives in a complex world and has complex feelings and relationships. She is real and she is a force of nature. Reading through her journey of self, unlocked some deep dark thoughts within myself. Though we are vastly different (a major understatement) our deep sufferings essentially boil down to the same thing and manifests in a similarly dark pattern. I don’t have and have never had an eating disorder of any kind. I am a college age black male who has grown up in the inner city. We could not be more different and yet we are more alike than I care to admit. The darkness, the hate, the obsession; it’s all there. It probably starts with trauma such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a childhood something that clearly separates you from the “rest.” You pound that distinction into your head for the rest of your life on a daily basis. What makes you different, makes you deeper, makes you darker, makes you more, makes you less. The loss lingers and manifests as sadness and anger. The loss of a best friend or a father, mother, uncle, or cousin; all can profoundly change you. When death surrounds you and couples with that vague sense of the world being inherently shitty, of your own place being sabotaged and a place of eternal suffering; Lia and I decided to obsess over what we felt we could control which for her, was her weight and for me…well I’m not ready to reveal that just yet.
Lia is a beautiful character and Wintergirls is a beautiful book in just about every way even though it has an ugly truth to tell. I admit that I didn’t initially like it and felt Lia was annoying and too cryptic the first few chapters but that’s a surface issue. Once I got to the substance I couldn’t dare stop getting to know Lia and hoping for her safe return from her darkness. Thank you Laurie Halse Anderson! I have been touched by this magnificent work.