Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.
For those who have read other works by Laurie Halse Anderson, you’re well acquainted with her propensity for writing about adolescents facing serious issues. Wintergirls is no different. It delves deep into the psyche of an eighteen-year-old girl struggling with a very serious case of anorexia nervosa.
I’ve read other books about girls with eating disorders. All of them worked their way under my skin, but not all of them truly upset me like this one did. Wintergirls is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Protagonist Lia’s disturbed thoughts and disordered behaviors are laid out in great detail, including her frightening visions of her best friend Cassie, who suffered a terrible death due to bulimia and who seems to have returned from the grave to tempt Lia to succumb to her anorexia and join her. As I was reading, I vacillated between appreciating the horrific, but honest, details—because anorexia truly is a horrific disease—and being very upset by them. Sometimes I wondered if they were too much. Ultimately though, I think that the grittiness of the story is necessary in truly impressing upon the reader the direness of Lia’s illness.
The reader also sees that Lia’s illness affects not only her but her family as well. There is a lot of conflict between Lia and her mother, and between her divorced parents concerning her health. Lia has a young step-sister, whom she loves very much, but who is deeply upset and disturbed by Lia’s struggles. Wrapped in her illness and her own head, Lia spends much of her energy hiding her life and herself from her family.
Wintergirls is a “typical” representation of anorexia cloaked in unique details. Lia struggles not only with her eating disorder, but also with the death of her best friend and with her hallucinations. There is “suspense” in that the reader is waiting to find out how Cassie died and why she called Lia’s phone thirty-three times in the final hours of her life. And there is the constant question: will Lia finally choose treatment and recovery?
Wintergirls will help you to better understand the horror that is an eating disorder. But it’s not an easy book to read. It’s heavy, potentially triggering, and chock full of pain—so read with caution.