Book: Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Dark Fiction
Audience: Grades 8-12 (and up)
Read-Aloud: No more…please no more
Summary: Lia is a senior in high school who suffers from anorexia nervosa. Her father and mother are divorced. Her mother, a surgeon, has little to no time for Lia and is often busy at the hospital. Her father, a famous historian and author, also has no time for Lia as he is always busy working on a new book. She lives with her father’s new wife, Jennifer, and her young daughter Emma (along with her father) and constantly tries to lose weight by starving and working out half to death. When we first meet her in the novel, she has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia and is well on her way to a third trip when her friend Cassie dies from complications from bulimia nervosa. The story follows Lia’s point of view as she goes through her days slowly wasting away from her anorexia while not being able to compel herself to eat due to her extreme body image issues, as well as her propensity for cutting. Her life gets worse as she starts seeing visions of her dead friend telling her that she can’t wait for Lia to die from her eating disorder so that they can be together again. Eventually Lia cuts herself so bad that she has to go to the hospital where her anorexia is found out. She attempts to run away but is too weak and almost dies, but again is saved, but this time she forces herself to stay on the right track and regain her health.
Themes: One of the largest themes in the novel is that of body image. Lia, the protagonist, suffers from anorexia nervosa in which she starves herself in order to become thinner. Her friend Cassie suffers from bulimia nervosa in which she can still eat as much food as she wants, but she has to vomit it back up later in order to maintain her thin look. This is an important theme as it helps students to understand that body image isn’t everything and that the portrayal of men and women in the media are sometimes false or photo shopped images. It also shows that trying to live up to such unrealistic images could lead to a plethora of deadly problems.
Another theme that is prominent in the novel is that of self-harm. Lia’s starvation of herself, her cutting, and Cassie’s bulimia all fall under this category. This theme is especially important when discussing the novel in a classroom as it deals with two of the most common eating disorders that many students may have in some form or another. It’s also an important theme for a teacher well in order to help them identify students who could be potentially harming themselves through starvation, bulimia, and/or cutting.
Connections: This book would work well in a class discussing issues that teenagers face as they grow up and get ready to be released into the world. It would be a great book to do in a unit based around eating disorders, hunger, psychological disorders, self mutilation, and other teenage problems such as drugs. Another unit that one could use the novel for is to teach students about the effects that mass media has on their lives and the lives of other in society. With this unit, one could use this book and other novels and magazines dealing with the portrayal of men and women in the media and have group projects based around exploring how the images affect young people.
Reactions: I loved this novel and would definitely teach it in a classroom given the opportunity. It is exceptionally well written and the issues in the story really resonated with me. The details that the protagonist gives and the tiny, subtle description really made this novel for me as they painted an extremely vivid picture of ever scene and mental image described in the pages. The plot was extremely well thought out and the amount of research that the author did in order to make her characters as believable as possible is astounding. I would recommend this novel to anybody looking for a dark view into the lives of teenagers with eating disorders.
Reception: One reader at Goodreads.com said that “I initially found this book to be absolutely repulsive – the narrative was suffused with this sense that something was hideously wrong, and the devices that Anderson was using to describe narrator Lia’s reality hinted at a disturbing mania. As it turns out, this is exactly right…Anderson does an incredible job of portraying mental illness and eating disorders, opening a door for readers into the inner hell of sufferers.”
Another review at thebookzombie.com says that “This creative use of textual strikethroughs was an excellent way to show how Lia was going through an inner battle with herself. It provided the reader with a way to experience how every thought that Lia had was a decision whether to be weak or strong. Almost like having the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Lia edits these things in her mind, I think, because it gives her a sense of power, a feeling that she can control something.” In response to the various ways in which the protagonist uses text to tell the story.