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Review: Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsLia’s long-time best friend, Cassie, has just passed away in a hotel bathroom. Though they haven’t spoken in months, Lia feels Cassie’s loss very strongly, especially because Cassie called her 33 times the night she died. Cassie starts visiting Lia, insisting she’s fat and telling her to eat less. Lia, already anorexic herself and sliding back into it after two hospital stays, has no plans to recover, and does everything in her power to deceive her father, stepmother, and mother that she’s still gaining weight even though she’s starving herself to stay thin. As Lia continues to deprive herself and exercise away the imaginary calories, she finds herself alternating between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a true wintergirl.

Wintergirls has long been on my wishlist, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy read. I’ll never forget going to a camp for teen Catholics and having every girl in the small group but me – all healthy, beautiful teenagers -confess to either having purged or having starved themselves. It was devastating. Lia’s struggle is an unflinching look at this mindset and what really may be going on in the mind of a girl with anorexia.

As readers, we know Lia is absolutely killing herself. The symptoms are obvious, as she starts to lose touch with reality, her memory slipping, her period ending, her obsession with yellow globules of fat and calorie counting. She tries to eat less than I eat in one meal for the entire day, and if she can manage, stays even below that. It’s also difficult to take because Lia self-harms and it’s absolutely painful to read about someone feeling so bad that she must injure herself to feel better. It’s difficult, but I think it’s so necessary, because an understanding of what goes on in the minds of people feeling like this can help us to get past the society attitudes which push them in that direction.

Lia’s anorexia is not down to one thing, but she’s pushed into it by a variety of factors, such as people insensitive to her growth as a young adolescent, a broken home, and a mother that she feels is never happy with her. Her equally unhappy best friend Cassie helps her down the path. It’s heartbreaking to read Lia’s struggles, how badly she wants to eat but how she won’t let herself, and even the pain she goes through when someone does force her to eat more like a normal human being. I can’t even imagine feeling like that and the book brought me to tears more than once.

The other thing most striking about the book is that Lia is a teenager in a very real sense. She’s needy in some ways, independent in others. Eating is very obviously the one thing in her life she can actually control – she can’t fix her parents’ marriage, she can’t get her mother to accept her, she can’t even get the grades that are expected of her. The only thing she can ensure she wins at is becoming thin, and that’s what she does. How many teenagers fall into this same trap? How many are killed by it? It hurts just to think about.

Wintergirls is a must-read. This is a heartbreaking book about a problem that is very, very real. Anderson outdoes herself once again, something I think I’d better expect next time.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Amazon Vine.

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5 comments to Review: Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

  • Ah, what a great review! I grew up living at a gym, doing gymnastics three to four days a week at a very early age so the subject of the book is certainly not unfamiliar. The was it’s told, though, has always put me off of the book because it seems to be so accurate in describing the thought process that tags along with disordered eating. I will, eventually read it but right now I haven’t been able to!

  • I have wanted to read this book for a very long time. I think the subject matter is very harsh, but it’s definitely a story that needs to be read and discussed. Thanks for your very powerful review. I am going to have to think about buying this soon.
    zibilee´s last post …Blood of My Brother by James LePore — 352 pgs

  • I bought this right after I read Speak and haven’t gotten to it yet. It sounds like I need to make time for it soon.

  • This was one of my top reads the year I read it. So powerful and scary. And the characters are so real. When I was teen, there wasn’t quite the pressure to be stick thin. Even so, I wonder how many of the girls I went to junior high and high school with had eating disorders. So much of it is secret behavior.
    Beth F´s last post …Beth Fish Does Book Tournaments- Awards- and Events

  • Great review. I felt the same exact way about this book. I listened to it on audio-cd, which added a whole new dimension to the seriousness of the topic and the unease of the subject matter, particularly the “I will not eat” chapter.