The Palette Cleansers - Dessen and Anderson

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After the Dan Brown The Lost Symbol debacle (and the Splenda-like aftertaste of Evernight), I realized I needed to pick a new book that would never fail me - an author who could never let me down. Who does a girl turn to? In this case I was lucky enough to have two great books waiting in the wings by two of my favorite authors, Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Sarah Dessen (who I have met in person, thank you very much) had published Along for the Ride over the summer and with moving into my new house, I never got to read it. What a great opportunity after a freemason, tatooed villian free for all! Sarah always manages a triple, if not a home run. If I were honest with myself, I'd say that I liked Lock and Key better, but I still absolutely loved it. She is such a talented author with the ability to present really different girls with developed personalities, to describe girl friendship so well and so true, to wiggle inside the ugly yet loving reality of sibling and child/parent relationship. I heart her.

The protagonist, Auden (named after the poet), was like so many girls I've known - hyper focused on academics, mature before their time, overscheduled girls with driven parents who don't understand that each kid is different. When she heads off to spend time with her inherently selfish and oblivious father and seemingly fluffy stepmother to meet their new baby, she gets more than she bargained for. Her stepmother is falling apart at the seams due to lack of help, Auden hooks up with the wrong guy only to find he has an older brother with a lot of appeal, and her stepmother's business is populated by a clack of girls that might just be Auden's first real friends. I love it that Sarah Dessen can write something so hopeful while not making the resolution unrealistic. For anyone on the cusp of college, this book is a must summer read prior to orientation week. FYI, Sarah Dessen has the best blog and you should totally read it.

So you can imagine that I was pretty happy putting Evernight behind me with Sarah Dessen, but to knock Dan Brown's latest drunken dial to his publisher out of the park, it was going to take something else really spectacular. Enter Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls. Most of the kids at Wyoming Seminary know Laurie Halse Anderson from their freshmen reading of her award-winning novel, Speak (I'm a gigantic Catalyst fan, myself, in addition to a huge fan of Fever 1793). If anyone liked Speak, they are going to be blown away by Wintergirls.

I was so stunned by this book - I kept thinking I'm going to have to read it a few times to really get some of the nuances that I was merely lightly grasping the first time around. This isn't a book, it's literature kept running through my head.

Getting into the head of Lia, the protagonist, is a terrifying prospect. Her anorexia is so pronounced that the reader is subject to her devastating self-talk (the font usage is amazing throughout the text) and the utter loathing she has for her body is so well-described, you can see the level of research Anderson did for this book. But it doesn't feel researched, it feels REAL, very real. What's more, despite hearing her revolting habits, hearing her hate toward her body, you are so empathetic that you care about Lia. This girl is so utterly shattered, has no adult in her life who she can really count on to care about her and love her unconditionally, that your heart goes out to how alone and adrift she is. When the story picks up, Lia is hearing from her stepmother that her best friend of years, recently estranged, Cassie (who suffered from bulimia) has been found dead in a motel room. Soon Cassie's ghost enters into Lia's tenuous hold on reality and as her weight drops (with her deceiving everyone around her), Cassie becomes more prominent and suffocating with her presence. Once again, her parents cannot be counted upon to see reality, just the problems before them, and neither they nor Cassie's parents ever understand that the unrealistic expectations and extreme pressure we see put on the girls from such a young age are largely responsible for their medical conditions. I think Wintergirls would be great to have in a required reading list, but it is SO specific in the details of her abuse of her body, both around food and cutting, that I could see teachers hesitant to use the book for fear of being blamed if any students would evince the behaviors described in the book. Go and read Wintergirls.