Book: Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Read-Alouds: Will be posted on Monday.
Summary: Lia is a Senior in High School, living with her Father and her step-mom Jennifer, along with her younger sister Emma. Lia has achieved the status in her High School as one of the most beautiful girls in the school- Lia sets the standard for beauty and success. The story opens with Lia learning that her best friend Cassie has killed herself via Anorexia Bulimia. When Lia and Cassie were younger they made a pact to become ‘Wintergirls,’ younger girls that are neither alive nor dead, suspended in a sort of Purgatory because of their beauty. Lia struggles to understand the true cause of Cassie’s death, and the disturbingly similar struggle in her own life. As Lia finishes her Senior year, her fragile grasp on reality starts to slip, as Lia starts to Cut again, not to mention her struggle with Anorexia Nervosa has begun to dominate her life. Soon, Lia ends up destroying her perfect image and the demons in Lia’s mind threaten to permanently trap Lia as a Wintergirl.
Themes: The first theme that is obviously Body Image. Lia and Cassie’s struggle to obtain the bodies that they will feel satisfied with takes center stage in this book. Anderson doesn’t shy away from the difficult, and controversial, topics that are associated with the two different forms of Anorexia. Illustrating the various ways that girls try to hide their obsessions was very eye opening- Anderson obviously had to significant amounts of research to write Wintergirls- from the different ways that girls add weight to their bodies when they are supposed to weigh in to the crazy amount of psychological conditioning they endure to keep themselves skinny.
This second theme could also be considered to be a part of the issue with Body imagining. I think that the Pursuit of Perfection is another theme. Lia is constantly dissatisfied with her family and friends- she can’t be honest with anyone, with the exception of Elijah. However, Elijah’s anonymity shows that Lia is terrified of revealing her true self and being seen as a person with real problems. Lia’s parents are both Professors and Doctors, two professions that are highly esteemed however her parent’s personal lives are a mess as well. While I think that the majority of this book is about eating disorders, one cannot ignore the fact that everyone in this book, with the exceptions of Elijah and Emma, they are all trying to be successful instead of just being themselves.
I think that Insanity would be the final theme. Anderson does a beautiful job of describing Lia’s tumultuous mind under the pressures that plague her. Getting inside the head of someone who is genuinely insane truly a remarkable place because lies feel true when we believe them- and the hallucinations that Lia has about Cassie certainly feel real enough and convey the desperation of Lia’s mental condition to the reader.
Connections: This is an excellent book for a variety of reasons- the first being that it deals directly with several unspoken issues that have become very real for most students in today’s society- such issues being that aforementioned themes. I think that discussing these issues in the classroom is a prime place to start in utilizing this book in the classroom, however discussion alone won’t fully equip students to respond correctly to these issues. I would suggest an in depth project where resources and recovery solutions are looked at and the consequences of eating disorders and issues such as cutting and success are fully realized.
Reactions: I enjoyed the book. It was a quick easy read that drew me in completely. I felt as though the entire plot line with Elijah needed a little bit more closure or finality. The same probably applies to the ending of the book- I felt that there wasn’t much closure with Lia just ending in Rehab again- although I believe that was the point that Anderson was trying to make with Lia; she would never be completely ‘over’ her addiction. All that being said, I still would have preferred more finality to the book.
“It’s an exhausting novel to read: brilliant, intoxicating, full of drama, love and, like all the best books of this kind, hope. It would be rare to find a novel in mainstream adult fiction prepared to pull out the dramatic stops this far, and difficult to imagine one in recent years that was prepared to be so bold stylistically. It’s a book that will be around for many years. It may not be an original piece, as these tricks have been pulled before in teen fiction. Yet it pulls them off with more skill and effect than anything I have ever read.”- Melvin Burgess at the Observer.com
“My biggest concern with the book is how teens who already suffer from disordered eating or even anorexia might use this as an eating disorder “Bible” or how-to guide especially with the calorie counts of everything Lia eats her obsessive compulsive tendencies. This book is very much in the same vein as Mayra Hornbacher’s Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia and Natasha Friend’s Perfect. I would recommend this book to readers ages 16 and older.”- Danielle Dreger-Babbitt, Seattle Books Examiner