You can’t say that Laurie Halse Anderson writes fluff. Her books are anything but. She’s not afraid to tackle the hard issues, the ones that so many people skirt around, and to do it head-on, no-holds-barred. These are not kind worlds her characters inhabit; they’re tough, brutal, scarring. These are not kind books to read, with happily-ever-afters in a bed of roses at the end.
And yet, somehow, Anderson makes it all come up, well, if not roses, then at least something less harsh than what went on throughout the rest of the book, and yet stay true to the book and the characters. It’s masterful writing.
This time around, Anderson tackles anorexia. It’s not a pretty picture, and because of that, it’s not a pretty book. To say it’s a tough book — almost too tough, too brutal — is an understatement. Our main character, Lia, is an anorexic. She’s been admitted to a treatment facility twice, but it hasn’t seemed to help (much): she keeps sliding back into her old habits, her old ways. And now, her (former) best friend, Cassie, has been found, dead, in a motel room. She’s taken to haunting Lia, who can’t shake the feeling that she should have done something (though she doesn’t know what) to intervene. And yet, she’s finding she can’t save herself from her own demons.
It isn’t so much the story in this book — Lia’s a miserable main character, and is happiest (if you can call it that) inflicting misery on those around her — as the way it is told. Part of the reason Lia is a miserable main character is that we live inside her head, and it’s not a pretty or happy place to be. We hear the demons — written in a smaller, different font than the rest of the text — we see the inner conflicts she has with food and control — written so effectively like this. We are privy to the constant battle Lia is waging with herself, with the control she wants to have in her life, with the emotional neglect, with the perception she has of herself, and as a result, the battle she wages with her family, her friends, those who truly want to help her. It’s quite moving. Harsh and terrifying, yes. But also very, very moving.
Which is precisely everything we’ve come to expect from a Laurie Halse Anderson book.
Rated: High, for a couple instances of the f-word, and the really rough subject matter.