Thursday, June 11, 2020

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson Wintergirls (8601200507249): Anderson, Laurie Halse: Books

[TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders, self-harm]

Cassie and Lia had sworn a pact, sealed by blood. They swore to compete over who could be thinner. Cassie was bulimic, Lia was anorexic

They were wintergirls, not dead, not alive.

They got thinner and thinner, until one day, Cassie died. Alone, in a motel room. She and Lia had fought months before, and had sworn never to speak with each other again. But the day before she died, Cassie had called Lia. 33 times. Lia didn't pick up once.

Lia is living an imitation of life. She counts her calories, but only if she eats. She eats one meal a day, maximum. Other days she eats nothing at all. She lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Her stepmother, Jennifer, weighs her every day, to try to keep her at a healthy weight, at least 110 pounds. Lia doesn't like that. She's striving for 85 pounds. Anything more is unacceptable. Lia cheats the scale by placing quarters into the pockets of her bathrobe to make herself heavier. 

At night, voices haunt her. They call her ugly, fat, stupid, and worse. But one night, there's a new voice. Cassie's. She's standing in the doorway; Lia actually sees her. Then, she appears beside Lia, and begs her to go with her, to cross over: to die, so she and Cassie can be together again.

Lia doesn't tell anyone: about how she's cheating the scale, or about the fact that she is seeing (and talking to) a ghost. Not her mother, not her stepmother, not her father, not her therapist. She doesn't want to be sent back to a mental health clinic again. Lia calls it "the prison."

In addition to all of her quarters, Lia is weighed down by guilt: by the feeling that she could have done something to save her best friend's life, by the fact that Cassie had called her 33 times while she was sick, dying, begging for help, praying that Lia would pick up the phone.

She hopes that the spirit will go away after Cassie's funeral, but it does not. Lia still goes through her daily routine, of eating very little, going to school, arguing with her father and stepmother, and cutting herself in the bathroom. Except now, at random intervals, she is visited by Cassie's ghost, a searing reminder of how Cassie had begged for Lia's help, and Lia never knew. Now, Lia struggles with anorexia as well as survivor's guilt. Plus, she feels as though her parents don't care, she feels that giving in to her hunger makes her weak, and she believes that Cassie was the only one who could ever understand her -- and now she's gone. Lia is lonely, angry, and depressed. 

Anorexia and bulimia are severe, chronic eating disorders that affect millions of men, women, and children worldwide. Lia exhibits common behaviors of anorexics, such as avoiding food, playing with food, exercising constantly to burn fat even though she has none to burn, wearing slightly baggy clothes to hide weight loss, and keeping an emergency supply of laxatives and emetics (drugs that make you throw up). She is also suffering from severe depression, she cuts herself on a daily basis, and has made more than one attempt at suicide. 

Will Lia decide to "join" Cassie?

Author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Wintergirls after she was contacted by fans telling her their own stories about their struggles with eating disorders.

The book is written almost like a series of diary entries, though it is not clear if they are actually written entries or just a series of her thoughts. Throughout the book we see certain words and sentences crossed out, revealing what Lia is truly thinking, and what she doesn't want to think, or admit. Anderson also plays with font size, style, and space to mark Lia's changing emotions: her guilt and sadness over Cassie's death, her fears. Reading this kind of book is a much more immersive experience, and very emotional.

I recommend this for 13+ because I am 14, and when I read this, I was literally crying. I was also unable to put it down until I had finished it -- it was that good -- but it is a very powerful book and probably not for younger readers.

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