“Wintergirls” by Laurie H. Anderson. Book Review

clip_image002Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking

My Review
“Wintergirls” was first published in USA in 2009 by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA). The book is written by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is about a girl who suffers from anorexia.
In “Wintergirls” we meet eighteen-year-old Lia who comes to terms with her best friend’s death from anorexia as she struggles with the same disorder.

Many professional people are discussing whether “Wintergirls” is a how-to-be-anorexic guide and if the book will trigger girls to become anorexic. Because of this on-going discussion this has been a factor used to criticize the book and even been a factor to keep people from reading it and even saying that girls shouldn’t read this book because it could endanger their mental health. In this discussion no one has brought up the issue that anorexia isn’t a learned behavior; it is a mental disease, you either are anorexic or you are not, you can’t learn how to get the disease. You probably can learn to have it, for a while, but then you revert to your old habits. This book won’t make you any more anorexic than any other psychological book can make you have psychosis or make you schizophrenic.

“Wintergirls” is simply a very honest story about an anorexic girl dealing with loss and struggle through the day. Even though many anorexic girls won’t identify with Lia, that doesn’t make this book any less a result of years of research consulting with girls who really are anorexic. There are just as many ways to be anorexic as there are victims, and anorexia is a disease not a behavior. Therefore it has to be treated like one, you don’t get cancer from reading so you won’t get anorexia from reading either. The reason behind the criticism of the book is that no one has ever written a book that is this direct and open about Lia’s disease, it is written in first person and we can read all of Lia’s thoughts because most of what we read about happens inside Lia’s head. The book doesn’t judge anorexic people but shows us the real life of an anorexic girl.

“Wintergirls” shows us the dangers of this disease as well. While the book has wrongly been accused of glorifying eating disorders, we don’t only get to see the skinny, skinny Lia. There is no question from the beginning that Lia is sick, we are told about her dizziness, about her cramps and cravings for food, it even takes us too far in the end to let us know how her body starts to shut itself down. Lia gets sicker and crazier on each page, but the book doesn’t allow us to sympathize with her. It only gives us enough words to understand Lia’s mind and that’s how the main character evolves through the story.

In the beginning Lia is almost cured from her disease, she don’t have to weight herself more than once a week, she can eat a little and she is a little bit more healthy. Then her former best friend, Cassie, dies from anorexia, and this sends Lia back into her bad habits. Slowly she eats less and less; her mind is torn because she knows that Cassie called her thirty three times the night she died alone in a motel. As Lia loses weight she also loses her sanity, slowly she starts to have small episodes of psychosis. The psychosis comes more and more frequently and she is sure what she sees is real. She believes that Cassie is hunting her because Cassie is beside her bed. Cassie is wherever Lia is when she is alone. Cassie solves the crosswords wrongly, Cassie tells Lia to be strong, Cassie makes Lia stronger, Cassie is a wintergirl, not dead and not alive, and Cassie swallowed the green sea glass Lia stole from her when she was a kid. Slowly Cassie is growing more intense, she soon becomes a personification of Lia’s eating disorder, and Cassie wants Lia dead.

“You’re not dead, but you’re not alive, either. You are a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between worlds. You’re a ghost with a beating heart. Soon you’ll cross the border and be with me” Cassie said

Lia’s development reaches a climax in the end when she goes to the motel where Cassie died as she is permitted to leave the hospital after nearly cutting herself to death. The Motel is closed for Christmas but Elijah, who works there, is there still and he was there when Cassie died too. Lia has known all along that Cassie left a message with Elijah and she finally gets to know what that message was. “You’ve won.” Cassie said.

Elijah leaves Lia in the motel, because he can tell from her eyes that she’s haunted. When he leaves Lia finds Cassie in the room she died and she sticks her fingers in her mouth to get the sea glass out. Cassie tells her she won, that she is the skinniest and that her body is dying, hearing and feeling this Lia finally awakes and realize how sick she is and she gets to a phone to call for help.

During the book Lia has moments where she is more alive and feels better. In these periods she thinks a very philosophical and symbolic language which is mostly expressed metaphors and reveals a deep meaning which is important in her life; it makes her understand and be able to move on.

“I am spinning the silk threads of my story, weaving the fabric of my world…I spun out of control. Eating was hard. Breathing was hard. Living was hardest. ”
In this paragraph she realizes that she is sick, that she needs help, but this state of clarity only lasts for a short while before she losses herself again. During her philosophical moment here she has no hope; there are no signs that she wants to try to get better. She lets herself fall, and fall deeper, even though she is at the bottom already.
These sentences are repeated, but they are repeated and edited into a sentence of hope towards the end:
“I spin and weave and knit my words and visions until a life starts to take shape.”
In this new sentence Lia has finally found hope and she has found strength to move on and get well. She is finally fighting her eating disorder, not because her family wants her to, but because she wants to. Now it’s finally possible to help her, because she wants to fight and is willing to start a new and better life in the future without her disease.

Lia is a very taciturn person. It’s not that she can’t communicate with other people, she just choose not to be withdrawn from the society. Her whole person is so drawn into her own mind to such a level that the outside doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s first when we get closer in on the climax of the novel that Lia starts to have a guilty conscience for the emotional pain she causes every person that cares for her. In the scene where Lia’s heart is failing and she has almost cut herself to death is the first time she thinks about the consequences of what she is doing. The reason for her to think of the consequences is that her smaller stepsister walks in and finds her just before Lia falls into a coma. When she then awakens she realizes how wrong her way is:

“I failed eating, failed drinking, failed not cutting myself into shreds. Failed friendship. Failed sisterhood and daughterhood. Failed mirrors and scales and phone calls. Good thing I’m stable.”
What makes the reader think Lia is a very realistic person is that even though she know she is doing wrong and even though she make mistakes, she continues to do things the same way and she run away when things get hard. When she is finally let out of the hospital, she runs away to the motel where Cassie died and that’s where we find the beginning of the ending as well.

The point of no return in this novel is at the very point where Lia calls to get help.

As an overall this is a though books that shows what is reality to certain people. It might not be the same to everyone, but that doesn’t mean this book tells the story of every anorexic girl out there. “Wintergirls” describes a realistic anorexic mind that most people won’t like to compare themselves to because all of Lia’s reasons are selfish. So in one way this book can also show us the picture of the world we live in now: the world where you shall answer that you are okay if they ask if you are okay and the society that just close its eye to what it won’t see because it is considered a taboo.

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8 responses to ““Wintergirls” by Laurie H. Anderson. Book Review

  1. Kiwie//Kristine

    I’ve looked at this in the store many times, but they only sell it in Norwegian, and I tend to prefer original language when that language is English…

    I think I must order it now though, seems worth my time. Considering how much time I’ve spent reading books about eating disorders and other mental illnesses (mostly memoirs though, but fiction too) this should be right down my alley.

    Thanks for reminding me that this exists!

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