By Debra Bogart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Disturbing, lauded eating disorder read; discuss with teens.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This book can help readers and parents delve into a slew of difficult topics, mostly having to do with body image and eating disorders. Check out our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas.
This is a powerful story about the pain and brutality of eating disorders, the mental anguish suffered by those suffering from anorexia or bulimia, and the pain their loved ones feel watching them. This is difficult but important material for teens and parents to discuss -- and ultimately, there is hope.
Positive Role Models
Like any addiction, Lia's eating disorder drives her to behave badly in order to get away with the lying required, and the narcissism. But she is someone that readers will relate to -- and root for.
Violence & Scariness
This book offers a very, very intense look at the mental and physical pain endured by two teen girls with eating disorders, one of whom dies by repetitive vomiting. There's very graphic detail about their physical deterioration as they starve themselves. Lia also begins cutting herself when she is 12. There is a subtle hint early on that Cassie had been sexually assaulted when she was very young.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some boys are vulgar when Cassie develops breasts in fifth grade and refer to "jugs" and "hooters." Eli asks Lia if she wants a kiss, who jokes that she wants to have babies with him.
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"Hell," "s--t," and "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Eli smokes cigarettes; Cassie and Lia start drinking alcohol when they are about 13, but drinking is not a focus of the book, not glamorized. Cassie is wasted when she dies. Some abuse of the various prescription drugs used for depression and eating disorders.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know this is a very, very intense book about the mental and physical pain endured by teens with eating disorders. The two main characters, the "wintergirls" of the title, both have emotional problems that lead to and exacerbate their disorders. The book starts with Cassie dying from repetitive vomiting. The very graphic detail about their physical deterioration as the girls starve themselves is painful to read. Parents may find this award-winning book educational -- not only about the pressures today's teens feel, but also about the way these girls maintain their lies and how others enable them to do so.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
Eighteen-year-old Lia wakes up to learn her former best friend, Cassie, has killed herself. The night she died she called Lia 33 times, and Lia didn't answer. In fifth grade, they were best friends, so close they swore to help each other be the skinniest girls in high school. When their eating disorders spiral out of control and repeated stays in treatment centers don't help, Lia finally distances herself from Cassie. Even though Lia can't give up her obsession with losing weight, she hates herself and relieves some of her mental anguish by cutting and self-medication. Her parents try to help but are easily fooled into believing she is better, even after Cassie dies from bulimia. Cassie continues to encourage Lia to starve herself even after she is dead by haunting her; and Lia's guilt helps drive her down into one more bout of starvation that sends her to the hospital again, where she is committed and treated for mental illness.
Is It Any Good?
WINTERGIRLS is very painful to read and very, very powerful. It is not for the faint of heart, but fans of Laurie Halse Anderson may find it hard to resist. Teens will find it depressing -- parents will find it even more so -- but Anderson's beautiful and evocative writing will compel them to read to the end. Anderson says in an afterward that she wrote this book because of so many readers who asked her to write about eating disorders, cutting, and feeling lost. It's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job.
An innovative style of journal writing is used to further illustrate a troubled mind -- some pages are blank while others feature crossed out words. Lia references fairy tales and fairy tale images that will appeal especially to female readers. This story has more brutality than a fairy tale from the Grimm brothers. As Lia says, there is no magic cure for girls like her, but there is a tiny, potent thimbleful of hope in the end.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about body image, healthy self-image, and cultural expectations for women's bodies. Parents may want to read through Common Sense Media's body image tips for girls and women, and even for boys.
Do you think this book's discussion of eating disorders will help prevent them (and provide support for victims)... or do books like these cause more teens to try out the methods described here? What responsibility does an author have for what her readers do after reading her book?
Also, this book has an official trailer, just like a movie. Have you seen these for books before? What do you think of this marketing effort? How else can publishers let teens know about new books?
- Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
- Genre: Body Awareness
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Viking
- Publication date: March 1, 2009
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 278
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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