As a twenty-something adult, I realise that technically teenage fiction isn’t aimed at me. My own recollection of teenage books is pretty limited- essentially just the Point Horror series (cheap thrills, but at the time just perfection) and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer books (same, but more angst-y). They’ve definitely improved. I think it is a terrible shame that adults shun teenage fiction (or children‘s fiction for that matter) simply because ‘it’s just for children/teenagers.’ A beautifully written book can reach anyone. In fact, as an adult I’ve grown to love teenage fiction so much that I try to sneak new ones onto adult book displays in my library as often as possible, recommending them to anyone who will listen!
Anyway, back to Wintergirls. I was handed this book to read for a shortlist we are currently compiling at work. The synopsis reads: “Cassie’s body was found in a motel room. She called Lia 33 times before she died. Lia never picked up. Now the voice in Lia’s head tells her to stay strong. Keep control. Lose more. Weigh less. Thin. Thinner. Thinnest. Maybe she can make herself disappear altogether.” Oh dear. I couldn’t have been any less keen to get started! Having said that, after thinking the same about John Green’s incredible The Fault in our Stars (love in a teenage cancer unit- really?!), I was willing to give it a fair shot.
Wow. This is a powerful, disturbing book. It is written from the perspective of Lia- a ‘recovering’ anorexic- who is trying to cope with the death of her oldest friend, Cassie, from bulimia. Lia is obsessed with food, but the voices in her head will not allow her any pleasure. The narrative is sensitive, and for me, believable. I can feel the struggle she has with the disease and the pain that it causes herself and others. I get frustrated with her inability to accept her body as it actually is, not how she sees it through the warped eyes of an anorexia sufferer. I actually cared about what happens to her and, for this reason, couldn’t put it down until I found out.
As with a lot of teenage fiction, this isn’t a comfortable read by any means. We cannot avoid anorexia as a topic today even if we want to. Watching Channel 4’s Supersize vs Superskinny gave me my first insight into the illness, which was horrific. I didn’t realise there were online forums where young adults egged each other on to lose more weight, or that the size zero models paraded through our glossy magazines were quite so dangerous as role models. My Mad Fat Diary is the story of Rae Earl, a teenager with body issues who attempts suicide and ends up in a Psychiatric Unit. The TV version follows her journey after leaving the unit, and with the support of her family, friendship group and councillor, she prevails. What I liked about it so much was that even at her lowest points, there was always an element of hope. I feel that Laurie also achieves this beautifully in Wintergirls. Read it.