Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wintergirls-- Laurie Halse Anderson

In my opinion this book is one of the most important books on the market today when it comes to YA fiction, so thank you, Ms. Anderson, for creating a work of art, one that makes us think and maybe even act to help those who are struggling. Perhaps I loved it so much because I find myself drawn to "issue" books both in reading and writing. Or perhaps it's because I have a heart for young women who are in the process of finding themselves within that black hole called high school. Or maybe it's because I've never before been so in touch with a character of a book as I was with Lia in Wintergirls. Whatever the reason, Wintergirls is a must read.

Let's begin by discussing the writing style. It is not written as a collection of poems, but the words have such a poetic feel that the story floats along like a dream. The emotion it renders immediately sucked me into the story. I was one of the characters. I screamed aloud when Lia continued her downward spiral into the vacuum of anorexia. (Ask my husband. He often would look at me and say, "What?!" when I started talking to the characters.)

The author uses strike throughs many times to show what Lia is really thinking. She calls her mother (Strike through) --mom-- Dr. Marrigan, showing the lack of real relationship between the two. (Sorry, I can't figure out how to actually strike through on this blog.) This device is used to show her true feelings about food as well. (Pg 5)(Strike through.)" --Because I can't let myself want them-- because I don't need a muffin (410), I don't want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag."

I was hooked at the use of this device because of how accurately it portrayed the struggle of the character. I didn't realize how badly anorexics wanted to eat, but Anderson's portrayal made that very clear. It's not the desire to eat that's the problem. It's the control over one aspect of life when everything else seems so out of control.

(pg 121) Lia brings pizza to Elijah. "He asks, "Want some?"

(Strike through)"--One bit, please, and then another and another, crust and cheese sausage sauce another and another--empty is strong and invincible. "I already ate.""

All I can say to that is, WOW!

Never before have I known what it was like to be a character as much as I did with Lia. I was torn, half the time yelling, "Eat, Lia. Eat something, please," and the other half understanding her need to be thin, so much so that she deceives those around her by sewing quarters into her bathrobe when her stepmother weighs her. Don't we all deceive others about our weight? Maybe not to the extreme, but I know I only buy clothes that show off my best features and hide my worst ones. I know that I wear certain outfits because they make me look thin even when I don't feel thin. I've never known a single woman that didn't some time or another struggle with or worry about her weight. I've experienced the yo-yo dieting and wanted more than anything to be skinny. We can all relate. Yet, what is it that pushes some people to the extreme?

It started for Lia and her friend Cassie in high school when they made a pact to be the thinnest girls in the school. The catalyst for the disease in this case was the constant pressures of school and friends. She's put into a hospital, gets a little better and is released. However, after her friend Cassie's death from bulemia, Lia relapses into anorexia again. Again she struggles with self image on top of not knowing how to grieve her friend's passing. The only thing that she feels she can control is her eating, which to my understanding, is often the case in eating disorders. Life seems so horribly out of control, so they control the only thing they can.

Honestly, this book opened my eyes a little. Being a mother, I want more than anything for my daughter (and son) to be healthy, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This novel has set my mind to thinking about what I can do to ensure proper body image, to build self confidence, to allow my children to have some amount of control in their lives so that they don't feel the need to step into the extreme. It's not just our daughters that we need to train. It's all those young women with whom we have contact, the young girls whose mothers may not know any better. So I ask, how are you doing at portraying a positive self image? How are you doing at encouraging young women to make good choices with their bodies? How are you doing at feeling good about yourself?

What can we do to help those young people around us from falling prey to diseases of the mind that constantly tell them they aren't good enough? I know one thing I'm going to do. Excuse me while I walk outside and tell my daughter how much I love her, how beautiful she is on the inside and outside, and how important she is to me.

Will you do the same?


  1. I haven't read this book in awhile, but I know that I loved it. After reading it I said that we should read it for book club, but Mrs L. said that it would be hard to get enough copies of it.
    I love it in book when you like really connect to the character, it makes it just that much better. I understand the character, like the not eating part.
    I mean I eat, but only when I am absolutely hungry. I often go without breakfast or lunch, and I eat dinner only when I am starving, and we both know that I am nothing small. It's easy to fall into the trap of not eating, because everyone around you is skinny, and you just want to fit it. It never seems to work though. I can eat like nothing for days and I gain weight and I'm like, "But how!" Then I actually eat something and all I can think is how I might have gained more weight because I ate something.
    Let's just say, I totally connect with Lia, she's just worse.

  2. I thought I'd let you all know that I sent the link to Ms. Anderson herself through Twitter. This was her response to me:

    @JVDLAndersen Wow - this review blows me away! Thank you!!

  3. great post. I love you.

  4. I loved this book as well. I found myself hoping that her step mom wouldnt find out that she was hiding quarters in her bath robe and hoping she would reach her weight goals, and not be put back into the hospital, but when I actually stopped reading long enough to become Kailah and not Lia again I realized that what she really needed was help. I know this sounds ridiculous,but I also found myself thinking in that sing-songy way the book was written and as if I was Lia for a while after putting the book down each time. I was completely sucked into the book as soon as I started reading it.