Book: Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: This book is directed at students ages 13-18
Read-Alouds: Coming soon.
Summary: Lia is a high school senior, who suffers from anorexia; Cassie, her childhood bff, dies from issues that stemmed from bulimia. As a virtual wreck by the beginning of the piece, Lia desperately tries to hold on to the pact she had made with Cassie (as children) to be the skinniest girl in school. She has been hospitalized twice and it apparently has not worked: Lia continues to starve and cut herself. Her parents bounce the teen from home to home trying to find methods that work, but in the end, the key to Lia becoming healthy is her younger step siser, Emma.
Themes: The most obvious theme in this novel is body image. The young girls are so obsessed with being thin, that they are willing to risk everything to become the epitome of it. Despite her family’s argument that she looks sick and Cassie’s death, Lia is still convinced that she needs to be smaller. Aside from Lia, the dissatisfaction with one’s body is also evident in their peers. In one scene, Lia joins the drama club for lunch and insists that one of the girls is staring at her because she can’t lose “the last 10 pounds”.
Another theme that is prominent in this novel is disassociation or disconnection with reality. Lia is so disturbed that she sees and smells Cassie even though she is deceased. While I understand that some scents could trigger her brain into believing she is smelling something, there is nothing that explains the snow storm in the drug store or Cassie sitting up at the funeral. Elijah, while more stable than Lia, seems as if he is a little disturbed as well. His way of describing his “visions” seem a little off as well as creepy.
Stepping away from the protagonist, the concept of hope is prevalent in the novel as well. Lia’s parents appear to have hope that she can recover, at least in the beginning and the end. They send her to a psychologist and put her in treatment facilities because they believe she is capable of doing better. Hope is another reason they moved her from home to home, they believed a particular environment encouraged her to behave in certain ways.
Connections: Wintergirls would be very useful in the classroom to teach students about the danger of eating disorders and offer assistance/resources. It’s helpful to them if they are the ones having the thoughts or they know someone that is. Anderson’s book opens the door for “hard to have” conversations with students, but once they see how concerned and open-minded the teacher is, they will run in whenever she is free to talk. I think this sort of text opens the teacher’s arms for the students to run in.
Reactions: I found this novel to be extremely interesting and and I liked it a lot. The fact that Anderson did her research and made the text hauntingly realistic, was what made the text so great to me; I enjoyed being inside of Lia’s distorted mind. The first person narrative was made more authentic by the cross-outs that the author included to show her internal conflicts about things: they did wonders in contrasting her actual age to the age she acts. While the novel is very graphic, I would recommend this to age appropriate readers.
Reception: Teen fiction critic, Melvin Burgess, thought the book was great and was deeper than most adult fiction. He loved the way Anderson constructed it and felt her “raw stylistic power that makes this so memorable” to himself as well as other readers. It was the voice of Lia and it’s real depiction of anorexia. The full review can be read at the guardian.
An Amazon associate, by the name of Meghan, posted a review stating, “Wintergirls is a must-read”. Although the young girl is a fan of Laurie H. Anderson, she believes the book addresses issues that every girl needs to be exposed to. The critic points out that although Lia wants to be skinny, eating is also the one thing Lia can control in her broken life (of parents, school, and friends). Meghan believes, “this is a heartbreaking book about a problem that is very, very real”. Read this review.