Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsLia is recovering from anorexia.  At least, that is what the people around her think.  Without seeing the weights she has sewn into the bathrobe she wears for her weekly weighing, or the hours she spends on the stair-stepper after everyone is asleep, or the calorie numbers that flash in front of her eyes every time she sees food, Lia’s family can believe that she is getting better.  But really, she’s still a wintergirl, trapped inside her own cold and intensely controlled world.  When Lia’s former best friend dies as a result of her bulimia – suddenly, gruesomely, and completely alone – the accusatory voice of Cassie’s ghost is added to the already-deafening chorus of voices in Lia’s head telling her to eat less, to lose five more pounds, to waste away and join Cassie forever.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing is lyrical and economical.  The amount of meaning and backstory she can convey with a few crossed-out words or a short aside is nothing short of astonishing.  After we learn that Lia ignored 33 phone calls from Cassie on the night that she died, the numbers one through thirty-three stretch across the page every time Lia thinks of Cassie’s death.  With no other comment, that long line of numbers batters against you.  It’s crushing.  And this is just one example from a novel that is so tightly constructed and full of intense images and emotions.  This high meaning-to-word-count ratio gives the writing a feeling of claustrophobia, especially when Lia’s stream-of-consciousness narrative takes over from the action of the story.

This is not an easy book to read – nor should it be.  Laurie Halse Anderson places the reader deep into the psyche of a girl whose demons are threatening to overwhelm her.  It’s not an easy book to turn away from, either.

Wintergirls on the web.

Laurie Halse Anderson on the web.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Fanboy, and unnamed fifteen year old comic book geek, is just trying to make his way through high school unnoticed. His only passion in life is for comic books, both reading them and creating his own. His magnum opus is Schemata, a complicated and time-consuming graphic novel. At school he has one friend, Cal, who is a popular jock and cannot be seen talking to Fanboy regularly. So Fanboy walks through the halls anonymously, occasionally getting beat-up or verbally abused, and having violent day-dreams about the people who are on “The List.” One day he is contacted by Kyra, Goth Girl. Another social outcast at their high school, Kyra is a troubled teenager who lies compulsively and steals cars for joyrides, and is later found to be suffering from depression. However, she is the only person who helps Fanboy break through his self-imposed isolation. Their complex relationship leads Fanboy to finally stand up for himself.

Fanboy is a tough narrator, but one who will doubtless have great appeal to many teenage boys who can directly relate to his situation. He has constructed an image for himself that he must break out of in order to make any connections with other people, and the process of breaking out of that constructed self is not an easy one. In Fanboy’s relationships with Kyra, Cal, and his family, he is often hurtful and even cruel. However, his unhappiness in school and his home, his dedication to Schemata, and his intense insecurity keep the reader on his side.

Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca

Francesca is one of 30 girls attending St. Sebastian’s Academy, which is accepting girls for the very first time this year. The teachers and the student body have not been exactly accommodating of the girls, and Francesca makes it to school every day only from the motivation of her mother Mia, who is extremely optimistic, lively, and often annoying. Until one day, Mia won’t get out of bed. Mia was the center of the whole family, and suddenly Francesca, her father, and her little brother Luca must struggle to keep daily life going. As Francesca slowly adjusts to her new surroundings at school, makes friends with the other girls, and begins to fall for the infuriating Will Trombal, she must also learn to live life without the constant guidance of her mother and her old, popular friends. And finally, Francesca needs to discover the root of her mother’s sudden depression, and learn what she can do to help Mia return to her life.

I imagine that well written, light-hearted novels dealing with depression are few and far between, but this title certainly fits the bill. Francesca is a heartbreakingly real character, both in her humorous reactions to everyday life and in her emotional reactions to her mother’s illness. Life and relationships are allowed to be complicated in Marchetta’s book, and Francesca deals with these complications in ways that many teens will be able to relate to.