With Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson offers readers a textbook example of wasted potential. This book has strong characters, inspired syntax, well-paced plotting, and a complex, multi-faceted social issue to which we all can relate.
Why, then, do I suggest that Wintergirls is "good, not great"?
1. Poor narration - Jeannie Stith was not the right narrator for this book. She does young females perfectly, but she does not take direction (Where were the regional accents? Why was Elijah's voice not "deep" as the written text indicated? Why does Dr. Marrigan sound vaguely like Dr. Parker?) and would have been better reading us the text rather than narrating it. There is a difference, and she missed some of the nuances;
2. Elijah - He is cast as the epic hero who saves Lia's life. In fact, he abandons her twice, both times at critical moments in her descent into hell. This, after he "helped" set in motion one of the major conflicts of the book by abandoning Cassie after her desperate cry for help. Stealing Lia's money made absolutely no sense, and did not serve the "epic hero" persona;
3. Faux-Cassie - Author Laurie Halse Anderson has said that this "character" is a ghost. I'm not so sure. In various parts of the book, she appears to be a psychological crutch for Lia to lean on, a further symptom of Lia's physical and emotional devastation. At other times, Lia appears to be in the throes of full-on mental illness, and it is implied that this has been going on for a long time (perhaps even preceding the onset of her eating disorder). In any event, the "character" is completely unnecessary, because Cassie herself is depicted far more dynamically in flashbacks. This would have been a better literary device to plumb the depths of Lia's self-destruction.
i weep for Cassie and Lia, two lost girls struggling to find a path to redemption. Perhaps if they'd never met, each would have found her true self before it was too late. Sometimes damaged people are inextricably drawn to each other, despite all efforts to pull them apart. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, the victor in battle is the combatant who controls the chaos - his own, and his enemy's.