One of my favorite teen authors is Laurie Halse Anderson. I first read her over ten years ago when her novel Speak came out. Speak is written in first person from Melinda. At the final party of the summer, Melinda calls the cops and several of her classmates are arrested, their lives forever changed. Yet Melinda won’t say why she called the cops. It seems like everyone in school is against her as she remains tight-lipped. The truth is finally revealed but not before taking the reader on an emotional journey with Melinda. ***SPOILER ALERT*** The reason Melinda called the cops at the party is because she was raped in the woods by an upperclassman. By the end of book she stands up to him and stops being a victim. ***SPOILER OVER***
Twisted is just as emotionally confusing as Speak but it is told from a guy’s point of view. (I’ve always believed that the mark of a great writer is one who can convincingly speak in voices of both sexes.) Tyler begins his senior year after a summer of hard labor to pay off for his graffiti prank. His newly-toned arms attract the attention of popular Bethany, which causes her boyfriend to come face to face with Tyler. All the while, Tyler feels the pressure from his father (whose boss is Bethany’s dad) to be an asset and not a liablilty. ***SPOILER ALERT*** The most gripping scene in the book (for me, at least) is when Tyler puts a gun in his mouth, ready to end his life, and he describes the taste and feel of the metal. ***SPOILER OVER***
Anderson’s latest teen novel Wintergirls was right up there with Speak. Cassie is found dead in a motel room and her former best friend Lia feels wrought with guilt. The former friends had done everything together, including finding ways to stay thin through their own eating disorders (Cassie with bulimia and Lia with anorexia). From page one the reader is taken inside the mind of a young girl struggling with body image and anorexia. Words, phrases, and whole sentences are crossed out and rewritten, as if Lia’s mind is trying to reprogram itself to not have negative thoughts. In this deeply personal narrative, Lia describes all the ways she hides her anorexia and the steps she takes to fool her stepmother into thinking that she weighs more than she actually does. She describes how the weight loss is not enough and will never be enough, even if she weighed nothing at all.
Anderson’s writing is candid and she isn’t afraid to tackle the tough subjects that teens face every day. I recommend her to any age, but especially for teens and their parents in hopes that it sparks conversations. Even if you aren’t a teen or don’t have a child, they are still great books to read because by the end of them, the reader understands the hardships that the narrator, and others like him/her, go through. I am not anorexic but after reading Wintergirls I understood the disease a little better.