Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“I swear to be the skinniest girl in school.”

There is no way to discuss Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls without using words like haunting. Disturbing. Painful. There is no beating around the bush: this novel made me uncomfortable.

Lia, Halse’s protagonist, is suffering from an eating disorder, which begins to spiral completely out of control (again) after her best friend dies. Her journey is cruel. The messages she repeats to herself are harsh and unforgiving. She deals with her emotional pain in ways that most of us would find completely appalling. And yet….

There are, distressingly, portions of this novel–lines, paragraphs, emotions–with which I could connect. There is no part of me which has ever even considered going to the extremes Lia does. And yet….

I walked away from this novel feeling a little disturbed by my own relationship with my body, with food, and with my need to control things. I had to think about it for a long, long time before I could put my finger on just why it was so disturbing. The conclusions I came to had to do with teenaged years spent dieting (oh, to have that body back!) and being raised in a society in which uses food as both a reward and a punishment. I’ll be honest: now that I’ve come to these realizations, I’m still a little upset by some of them. I have a little work to do.

There were parts of this novel that made me wince, wanting to look away from the absolute horrors Lia inflicts upon herself. But are those horrors really so different from the kinds of messages we inflict upon ourselves every day?

“I’m fat.”
“I don’t deserve this cookie.”
“If I can just fit into those jeans, then I’ll be happy.” 

At Lia’s lowest, most absolutely devastating point, the words in her head are, “I win. I won.” And she’s lost everything.

At some point, friends, we have to learn to love ourselves for the people we are inside. We have to stop trying to win, and just be grateful for the amazing machines we have been given. There is no trophy for the skinniest or most beautiful or most svelte woman. There is no finish line. There is only us.

Wintergirls is, maybe, the most horribly uncomfortable book I’ve read in the last year. But, for these and so many more messages, that’s what makes it so worth reading.

4.5 stars. Tiny deduction for a fair amount of PG-13 language. A couple of distressing scenes, but I wouldn’t keep them from my older teens–I think they’re highly worth reading, both for educational and sympathetic reasons.

4.5 Stars

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