In Wintergirls, we meet Lia, an 18-year-old with a severe eating disorder. She has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia, but she refuses to admit that she's sick. As the novel begins, she has just been informed of the death of her best friend, Cassie. Cassie died alone, in a seedy motel room, from causes that no one is quite sure of..... after calling Lia 33 times, during which Lia refused to pick up the phone.
Cassie and Lia have been best friends since they were children. When Cassie was 11, she began making herself vomit. Her habits grow into eight years of ever-intensifying bulimia, which eventually leads to her death. Only Lia is able to understand Cassie's motivations. But then, Lia is no stranger to destructive impulses herself. When she is 13, she begins cutting herself as an outlet for the pain she feels over her parents' divorce and disinterest in her. Shortly thereafter, she and Cassie enter into a pact to become the skinniest girls in their school, no matter what the cost. The pact becomes a competition between them, with Cassie binging and purging and Lia starving herself.
And now Cassie is dead and Lia is left alone. She was already mentally and emotionally unstable (not to mention physically), but Cassie's death sends her over the edge. She believes that she sees Cassie's ghost everywhere, and that Cassie wants Lia to join her in death.
This book was EXTREMELY powerful. It is written entirely in Lia's voice and vividly demonstrates the destructive self-talk that led to her eating disorder and cutting. She immediately assesses the caloric count of every food she comes into contact with, and even the chapter headings are written in the format of pounds of a scale. The imagery is a bit heavy at times, but I did not feel that detracted from the story. Lia's voice was strong and absorbing. I can't say that I actually "enjoyed" this book; I cringed continually while reading it. The descriptions made me feel that I was truly in Lia's world, trapped inside her personal horror story. Wintergirls is definitely not for the faint of heart.
I especially enjoyed the Guardian's review of Wintergirls; I thought that it provided an excellent explanation of what made this novel so exceptional. You can read it here.