Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Release date: 3rd Jan 2011 UK
Genre: Contemporary Teenage Fiction / Mental Health
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Scholastic
"Dead girl walking," the boys say in the halls.
"Tell us your secret," the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way-thin, thinner, thinnest-maybe she'll disappear altogether.
This is a heartbreaking and powerful story about a teenage girl whose life is falling apart and she is trying desperately to keep things in control by keeping herself small - far too small. So small, in fact, that she might disappear.
Lia is battling herself every day. She is recovering from anorexia, but that is a hard battle to win because at 95 pounds, she still feels hideously fat. It somehow seems that she might stand a chance, but then she learns that her former best friend, Cassie (battling her own eating disorder), died all alone in a hotel room and before she did, she called Lia thirty-three times. Lia, angry with Cassie, never picked up the phone and now Lia wonders if she might have prevented Cassie's death. Guilt begins to torment her and it is so strong that, once again, Lia feels the need to disappear. 95 pounds is too much. The next goal is 90, and then 85, then 80, and finally - 0.
This novel is a wonderful presentation of the problematic of eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are very difficult mental illnesses that eat at the human mind and may weaken the body to the point of death. They are presented realistically and without any embellishments. It's made clear that they are a way of keeping control. If you can control what you eat, if you can control your body weight, then it means you can control your life. And you are never too thin. That is the logic of women with eating disorders and it is a terribly dangerous way of thinking.
Lia's life seems to be falling apart on every line. She lives with her dad, his wife and the wife's daughter, and although they seem to be a happy, normal family, which in many ways they are, her father is almost never there and Lia feels alone. Her mother, a doctor, keeps seeing a patient in her and Lia is sick of it. When the immense guilt is added into the equation, Lia falls back into the old, destructive pattern of denying herself food and pushing her body towards new and dangerous limits. The thinner she gets, the stronger she feels and she doesn't want to stop. Lia's mental struggle is incredibly well presented and sometimes, it was a torment for me to read about Lia, so real did her struggle feel. That is definitely a compliment, although those passages were not easy to read. They were very sobering, in fact, and it made me realize how much help such women really need.
The language is very lyrical and simply beautiful. The narrative, although poetic, is also very vivid and seems to pull the reader right into Lia's troubled world. Her thoughts, while painful and sometimes downright disturbing, are truly well shaped and delivered. Lia is a living heroine whose story definitely makes one think and feel many things. Her story really stirred a reaction inside me and stayed with me for a while after I finished the last page.
Eating disorders are definitely not an easy topic to read about, but I believe the author did a great job at presenting a woman with anorexia's state of mind. The novel offers both a great story and a chance to become aware of this particular problem.
I would recommend this book to women of all ages, but especially to young girls, so that they can appreciate their bodies as they are, or to see that starving is not a way to keep your life from falling apart. Anorexia and bulimia need to be treated. My preaching aside, in Wintergirls you will find a story about one girl's struggle to simply be happy in life and with herself.
Becky says: A wonderful and touching review Irena. I don’t think that I’m brave enough to read this book. I imagine that I would find it distressing to read about someone living with an eating disorder. I can see that this is a really important book though and I admire the author for writing it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Both our thanks go to Scholastic for sending the book for review.