“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 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.
Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
Let me start this off with a trigger warning: Wintergirls is most definitely a triggering book for anyone who has ever lived with an eating disorder. That being said, it is a truly fantastic novel that deals with several heavy issues. Lia, the protagonist, is a high school girl who suffers from anorexia nervosa and other disordered eating and exercise habits. She has low self-esteem (obviously) and a rough relationship with her divorced parents. Her best friend just died from bulimia. The girl’s got a lot going on.
Lia lives with her dad, stepmom, and little step-sister and avoids contact with her mother. She’s never been the best at anything in her life: she’s not top of her class, not the prettiest girl in town, not the most athletic. So Lia decides to be the skinniest- she can do that, right? She makes a pact with her best friend Cassie to become as skinny as possible. This decision quickly spirals for both girls into full-blown eating disorders, which are mental illnesses that cause extreme physical detriment. Cassie goes the bulimic route, while Lia becomes anorexic. As time goes on and both girls shed more and more weight, Lia and Cassie become increasingly competitive until they finally have a falling-out. So when Lia receives 33 phone calls in the dead of night from her ex-best-friend, she ignores them. The next day, Cassie is found dead. From there, the novel unfolds.
Lia continues to starve herself, to cut herself, and to put up an “I’m recovering” front. Yet as she nears closer and closer to the end, to the edge, to the final lost pound before she falls into utter oblivion, Lia begins to see Cassie everywhere. Cassie haunts her thoughts and dreams, taunting her, pulling her toward death so they can reunite. And as Lia floats in and out of doctors’ offices, rehab, and consciousness, she uncovers a startling truth: she wants to live. Through immense bravery and many faulty steps, Lia begins to put her past behind her and recover, one pound and one positive thought at a time.
Anderson’s poetic writing style makes this novel a standout regardless of its subject matter. Filled with cross-outs, journal entries, and layered metaphors, Lia’s story is woven in a haunting, achingly beautiful way. Readers will be jarred by the way Anderson makes Lia’s thought processes make sense. For example, if Lia is eating 300 calories a day, exercising for six hours, and throwing up what she’s eaten, the reader will understand why. He or she will think “wow this is insane, this is crazy, but I understand it.” Anderson so completely gets the mindset of an anorexic, and she embodies it within the story so effectively that the reader is forced to get it as well, no matter how insane and illogical the reasoning is. Wintergirls truly exposes an anorexic’s mentality to the reader and it is terrifying. But it’s well done and is a truthful portrayal of the reality of eating disorders; there is no glamorization of the disease. I think it’s important that stories like this are told.
Lia’s journey through starvation, self-harm, and slow recovery is exceptionally heart-wrenching and powerful. In this poignant novel, Lia learns that she is worth her mother’s love, worth her sister’s adoration, worth her father’s and stepmother’s time. But most importantly, Lia discovers that she is valuable simply because she is Lia. I highly recommend Wintergirls to anyone capable of handling the content; it will change every preconception you’ve ever had about eating disorders.