Wintergirls

 
Disturbing, lauded eating disorder read; discuss with teens.
ALA Best and Notable Books

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

"Hell," "s--t," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Not applicable
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.

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. 

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?

QUALITY
 

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.

 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre:Body Awareness
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Viking
Publication date:March 1, 2009
Number of pages:278
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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Quality

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written bytoolieloolie March 24, 2011
age 12+
 

This book could save someone

Although people think that Lia might be a bad role model, Elijah and Cassie especially, they show the struggles of an average teen in this generation. I know that parents think that everything is fine, but it's not. This generation is worse than the others. There are younger and younger kids that commit suicide, that cut, or are suicidal. And its scary, but keeping your kids from knowing that wont save them. This book can actually scare you into becoming a healthier person. I actually had to put the book down and have a break when everything described just became too real, and I could actually feel the pain and the struggle. And in the end, Lia is a good role model, by trying to become better, and to actually accept help. There is also a positive message at the end, but if you don't read until the end, then you might not get it. Lia is only getting better for her stepsister. She didn't want her to be sad anymore. lia didnt want her sister to worry about her. And although I really did like this book, if you give it to someone too young, they might get the wrong message from the book
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byReba9497 March 6, 2011
age 12+
 

Give it to someone with Eating Disorders, it might save them

Very very good book! Unlike what some people said (cough parent comment, cough) this book does the exact opposite but encourage you into eating disorders. It doesn't talk about how cool it is to have an eating disorder, it talks about the consequences and problems it involves. It is scary, but in a good way. It helps you get into an anorexic/bulimics head. I put it was educational because it helps u learn about eating disorders, which most people don't like to talk about.
What other families should know
Educational value
Educator Written bylaneymiller246 March 2, 2013
age 16+
 

Helpful, Insightful, Worthwhile

I have read countless books about eating disorders. This is the first one that actually inspired me to recover instead of driving me further into my disorder. It is an extremely worthwhile book. It shows the harsh, cruel, undeniable reality of an eating disorder, and even if you do not have an eating disorder, it is a thought-provoking book that asks you to look inside yourself and question each and every choice that you make and the consequences your actions will have.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages

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