New Teen Book Tackles Eating Disorder

Laurie Halse Anderson is the reigning queen of teen tumult. Beginning with her first novel, Speak, about a girl raped at a party, she has unearthed deep sources of angst in suburban adolescent life. Her talent is to capture the peculiar lost quality of American teenagers who, to an outside observer, would appear to have little to complain about. She makes their pain palpable and has been rewarded with a large fan base.

In Wintergirls, Anderson takes on the thorny problem of eating disorders, and the fierce novel that emerges might actually make a few girls examine themselves rather than just study the text for tips on weight loss. Lia’s best friend, Cassie, has died from bulimic excess, alone in a motel room. In an unusually effective typographical experiment, Anderson shows the struggle between Lia’s healthy self and her anorexic self by printing the character’s healthy thoughts in strike-through type; her anorexic self ”corrects” the thought with another. Thus every reference to ”Mom” is crossed out and followed by the chilly ”Dr. Marrigan” — Lia’s way of distancing her physician mother, who might or might not be as narcissistic as Lia imagines her. Every reference to eating strikes out the words that make food seem appealing and replaces them with words that make it seem repulsive.

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