Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is my second novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, my first being Speak. I love that Anderson tackles difficult topics and she puts so much of herself into the book and characters and makes sure that the characters are portrayed correctly and that their issues are accurately written about. So I was very eager to read Wintergirls, although I have also put it off due to my own personal history with eating, not eating, and in general, having a very conflicting relationship with food.

Just like with Speak, I was not disappointed with this book. It is moving and scary. The accuracy of what the main character, Lia, goes through is so jarring.


This book starts like so many others that I have read for Mental Health Month-with the death of a friend. However, unlike the other books, it doesn't deal with the aftermath alone. Lia is a Wintergirl; a girl who is so thin, she's never warm; she is past size 0 and 00; she wants to be the thinnest. Her best friend is Cassie, who also wants to be the thinnest. Cassie was found in a hotel room alone and dead and Lia wasn't there for her, but she had 33 missed calls from her. But before that happened, Cassie was her best friend, and together, they promised to be the skinniest girls in school and helped each other achieve that goal.

Every food that Lia eats, she makes a mental note of the calories in the food. She has sewn quarters into her pockets so that she will appear to weigh more when her step mother weighs her once a week. Through the course of the book, you learn her tricks for making it look like she ate: heating up food in the microwave and smudging crumbs around her mouth; moving food around on her plate; watering soup down. She also keeps a stash of laxatives and diuretics at the back of her closet "for emergency situations." In one desperate situation, she literally washes her mouth with soap.

To top everything off, she is being haunted by the ghost of Cassie. First, she just sits in the corner of the room or foot of the bed. But as Lia comes closer and closer to Dangerland, Cassie interacts with her. Lia also refers to how she can feel other peoples skin cells in the air, ghosts trickling out of her when she cuts. 

Anytime Lia is really mad at herself, she repeats this:

stupid/baby/stupid/loser/stupid/lost::" (p. 61)

She tells herself this when she cuts, when she does crunches, when she is angry that she has given into food. It is her mantra.

In what looks like it was going to be the turning point of the novel, Lia cuts herself while she is the shower and blacks out. But her young step-sister found her and she was hospitalized. This was it for her parents. She was moved back in with her mother against her will. At an appointment with her therapist, she finally tells the doctor about seeing Cassie's ghost. After hearing this, the doctor says that she would rather Lia go to a psychiatric facility instead of New Seasons.

This is what causes the turning point. Lia, instead of waiting for her step mother to pick her up from the appointment, goes to a hotel where her somewhat-friend lives; it is also where Cassie was found. Lia convinces her friend to take her with him when he leaves, but he is hesitant with Lia's condition. When she is sleeping, he robs her and leaves. For the second time, Lia almost dies. Cassie visits her and tells her that she is crossing over, but this isn't what Lia wants. Using all that is left in her, Lia calls her mother and she is saved.

Lia goes to New Seasons and is on the road to recovery at the books close. 

"I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles." (p. 275)

What I Liked
  • Lia's internal monologue is powerful, scary, moving. Listening to what Lia puts herself through is frightening and saddening. People every day feel how Lia feels; put themselves through what Lia does. Knowing that, although this is fiction, it is incredibly real.
  • Lia's mood toward her parents decides what she calls them: happy:dad/mom; upset: Professor Overbrook/Dr. Marrigan. It's unique.
What I Didn't Like
  • Occasionally, I struggled with the writing style. It would be really quick and short (usually when she is mentally attacking herself and in a downward spiral) and then it would be slow. I understand why it was done, it just caused for some reader whiplash.
Overall Thoughts

This book took me some time to appreciate and to understand where it was going. I feel like a lot of it had to do with the writing style. But once I got past that, and realized that yes, Lia has a lot more going on that an eating disorder, the book became much better.

My own personal story with my eating disorder was short lived, starting with a high school boyfriend telling me that he thought I was fat and ending with me passing out at a color guard practice on Halloween night. I would lie about eating, pick around food, and make myself throw up when I had to eat. The weeks following my ordeal included friends and parents making sure that I was actually eating and checking my blood sugar. It was embarrassing enough for me that I never gave up eating full time again, although I have always battled with my self image.

I have never personally known anyone to suffer with an eating disorder as severe as Lia and Cassie's. But out of every form of self-harm I have ever known, read, or studied about, it is the one that saddens me the most. I know that there are other things that are worse or more life threatening, but anorexia/bulimia has a much different sadness behind it. I can't pinpoint it; I don't know why, but I feel overwhelming sadness when a person thinks they won't be happy until they reach whatever unattainable goal they have given themselves, and a lot of them fade away trying to reach it. I remember watching a Lifetime movie where a girl had written in a journal saying that she wouldn't be happy until she reaches 0.

Wintergirls does a wonderful job of putting you inside the mind of someone who suffers from an eating disorder. But just like Lia, if you suffer from it, there is an other side. You will always have to work at it, but you can break through.

Rating: 8/10
Pages: 278
Genre(s): Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary


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