Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: Harrowing, must-read novel follows teenage Lia as she pursues her goal to weigh, and be, nothing. If you want to see into the mind of an anorexic, look no further. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Viking Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0670011100

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I swear to be the skinniest girl in school, skinnier than you
Cassie's eyes got big. I bet I'll be skinnier than you.
No, don't make it a bet. Let's be skinniest together.
Okay, but I'll be skinnier.

This is the oath that binds Cassie and Lia together in a novel which strips bare the mindset of teens in the icy grip of a severe eating disorder. On the opening page, we learn that Cassie is already dead, herthirty three calls to her former best friend Lia unanswered as her life slipped away in a seedy motel room.

We sit inside anorexic Lia's head as she meticulously records her days, measured in calories, self-censorship, razor cuts, dizziness, guilt, hatred and hunger. Lia is bright, driven and manipulative. She cooks food that splatters the microwave, then dumps it. She dabs her lips with tomato sauce before her family comes home. She bakes for her loving but busy, busy family members - but has always just eaten. She fiddles with the bathroom scales, gorges on water and weighs down her dressing-gown with coins before her weekly weigh-in. She wishes she could puke like Cassie did, her bulimic dead friend with a finger permanently scratched from inducing vomiting. She exercises for hours and gets support from other eating disordered wraiths on the internet, calling their skeletal frames whale-like and exhorting each other to eat 500 calories or less. (Try googling for 'pro-ana', 'pro-mia' and 'thinspiration' to find a multitude of blog-yourself-thinner-than-Nicole-Richie sites). She has all the skills, knowledge and motivation of a bright, middle-class teen, and uses them to set and achieve her weight-loss goals.

Lia's fasting has her halfway between a meditative state and physical collapse. Her senses are heightened as if she is a vampire – she smells her stepmother's breath, hears heightened sounds, reads thoughts, tastes food vicariously. Cassie appears to her as a ghost, calling for Lia, her wintergirl, to join her, as she shivers and aches with cold as her body starts to shut down.

Does Cassie convince Lia to take that final push into the ultimate thinness, death? I will leave that for you to discover. I urge you to buy this book for any teenager, and read it yourself. Even if the subject matter doesn't appeal, it's such an excellent union of plot and writing, it almost reads as a thriller, with food as Lia's enemy that she must either defeat, or learn to accept into her body.

I wish I could quote more from Wintergirls, but as I was reading an uncorrected review copy, I am limited to quotes already published. Suffice to say, Laurie Halse Anderson writes economically, evocatively and elegantly. In the author's capable hands, Lia's twisted logic makes perfect sense, which is perfectly chilling. I'd never heard of her before seeing this book up for review, but I intend to read more by LHA. The story tackles huge waves of emotion and strained, multi-faceted and ambiguous family relationships. It's set in New Hampshire, so expect Americanisms and references to third grade and graham crackers and suchlike – but this won't interfere with your enjoyment if you are on the British side of the pond. It's a universal story of the affluent Western world - where being thin, while surrounded by abundant food, is given hallowed status.

Thanks to the publisher, Viking Books, for this fine novel for teens and adults. Anyone that enjoys pacy, resonant, quirky writing with fully-dimensional characters won't be disappointed.

For more reading on eating disorders for teens, Daisy battles with anorexia in How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess fearlessly tackles the subject of self-harm and body image. While Bookbag's reviewer had mixed feelings about its delivery, the autobiographical work Eating Myself by Candida Crewe charts its author's minute food obsessions and further explores the psyche of eating disorders.

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Buy Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson at


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