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The Book Review Club - Speak vs. Wintergirls


Laurie Halse Anderson

Young Adult



Laurie Halse Anderson

Young Adult

I read both of these books back to back and did not give up on life entirely, which speaks highly to Anderson's talent as a writer. These are not easy reads. Speak, celebrating its 10th anniversary in print, is about rape. Think that's edgy? Wintergirls is about bulimia and anorexia. This is tough stuff. Anderson does a fabulous job with protraying real, troubled teens. For any girl who has been through rape or is battling an eating disorder, these pieces must feel empowering because they let the individual know, you are not alone. 

The reason I review them together is because, despite Anderson's skill at real, gritty portrayal of these issues through a teen character, after finishing the books, I was left feeling much like I had after a spree of John Irving books in my early twenties, i.e. like the main characters were the same person over and over. Lia of Wintergirls, birthed ten years after Melinda of Speak, nonetheless feels like the same teen. Anderson's writing chops are much improved, although the symbolism in Speak is incredible, the writing in Wintergirls will leave you rereading again and again to pick up craft points, turns of phrase, ideas on how to take mental illness and make it real for readers. Still, Melinda and Lia are interchangeable. 


Their voice feels very similar. Their reactions, similar. Lia feels like a more mature Melinda, going further in her personal psychosis, more unstable, more suicidal, more detached. Yet still, Melinda. 

Which leads me to ask the following questions: What results in similar characters across novels by the same author? Can we authors only get so far from our own perception? Are we slaves to our own hermeneutics? Or do similar driving motives across different stories nevertheless lead to similar characters? 

I am not sure what the answers are, but I would like to know more because I find myself falling into that pattern in a present novel. Certain secondary characters feel similar to ones in an earlier novel I wrote. How do I avoid that? Should I? Or does such similarity define an author much as a defining brushstroke can define a painter?

Food for thought.

For more great reads, hop over to our fearless leader, Barrie Summy's blog.  And for those of you in the Kansas area, if you get a chance, stop by the Kansas School Librarians Conference Thursday and Friday of this week. Barrie Summy, P.J. Hoover, Zu Vincent, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and I are the guest speakers for lunch on Thursday. It's a whole panel of characters just waiting to share!