It’s been 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson burst onto the literary scene with her powerful debut novel, Speak. Now Anderson is back with her fifth novel, one whose raw emotion, troubling subject matter and indelible images will further cement her reputation as one of the best young adult authors writing today.

Although Anderson’s theme is eating disorders, Wintergirls is a far cry from the kind of popular “problem novels” about anorexia and bulimia that seem to flood bookstore shelves. Instead, Anderson simultaneously explores both the brutally isolating self-loathing experienced by those suffering from these diseases and the twisted “support” that girls with eating disorders offer each other, encouragement that often spirals into mutual self-destruction.

At the center of Wintergirls is Lia, a high school senior who has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia. Now living with her father, stepmother and stepsister to avoid conflict with her overbearing mother, Lia has managed to keep her whole family in a state of denial.

Inside, though, Lia is in crisis. Her longtime best friend, Cassie, died the night she called Lia 33 times, each voice mail more desperate than the last. Lia ignored every one and is now wracked with guilt. The two girls had a difficult relationship, both of them locked in a dangerous pact to be the skinniest girl in school.

Tear-jerker novels and books of pop psychology might lead many to believe that there are simple, straightforward reasons why girls develop eating disorders. In her typically thoughtful style, Laurie Halse Anderson reveals that, in many cases, the motivations are far more complex, nuanced and dangerous. With naked emotion, brutal honesty and a narrative that’s simultaneously captivating and claustrophobic, Wintergirls gives readers a haunting window into the disordered thinking behind eating disorders.

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