Anderson, L.H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.
It is clear from the beginning of the book, Lia is dealing with some issues. She responds with the sensitivity of freezing ice when she hears that her former friend, Cassie, is found dead. She considers the calorie count of every potential breakfast item. She has moved back in with her dad, stepmother and stepsister after living with Dr. Marrigan, her mother (who Lia is constantly trying to distance herself from...thus calling her Dr. Marrigan).
It turns out Cassie called Lia thirty-three times the night she died and Lia never picked up the phone. 33 calls. As Lia seeks control and perfection in her body she also tries to avoid dealing with the loss of her former friend, a job complicated when Lia starts seeing Cassie’s ghost.
While I’m a huge fan of Anderson’s work. (Literally, I almost cried when I was re-reading Speak recently because it was so well constructed) My feelings are a little cooler (pun intended) when it comes to Wintergirls. Anderson’s tendency toward metaphorical language seemed to be in overdrive for this book. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good metaphor. I love MANY good metaphors, but Wintergirls had too many metaphors even for me. At times they seemed to contradict each other despite creating wonderful images or implications.
Incorporated throughout the book are a lot of allusions to literature and fairytales. When speaking about her life before her parents’ divorce, Lia consistently uses the phrases “When I was a real girl,” which significance is worthy of discussion, particularly as the story evolves.
Recently, the book has been considered to be a potential “’trigger’ for anorexia” according to the New York Times Review. I personally did not find this to be the case. I must admit, after being completely immersed in reading the book for several hours, only to surface and be offered chocolate chip cookies by a classmate, my mind did do a little mental shriek, in a Lia would not approve sort of way. But I still ate the cookie. In fact, I ate two. And took home a third.
I also think book won’t serve as a trigger for a very simple reason: Lia is annoying. As a reader, I found Lia and her story compelling, yet it was still obvious to me that she was hurting herself, slowly killing herself. And as a reader, I was frustrated throughout most of the book, a perfectly wonderful reaction with a book like this one. I suppose not everyone is so far removed from Lia’s perspective as I am and there is no doubt Lia gives some sneaky tips on how to deceive a scale…but still a ‘trigger?’ I’m excited psychologists think a single book can be so powerful. That’s quite a compliment to children’s literature, in a round-about, twisty way.
My issue with Wintergirls is the fact that I read it before, several years ago: Girl struggles with cutting. Reader sees consequences of bulimia and anorexia. Upper-middle class girls have issues with their families. Girls with such problems tend to end up in hospitals or institutions. It’s called Cut and Patricia McCormick wrote it in 2002 (and I reviewed it here).
Don’t get me wrong, these books have very different plots. And there should be multiple books that explore these issues from different perspectives. But did Anderson have to overlap the issues presented so much? (I’m sure she’d say yes)
Activities to do with the book:
A teacher could go over proper eating habits and hand out nutrition guides to students. Beyond that, Wintergirls would be wonderful to start discussion on divorce, parental pressure, body image, eating disorders, need for control, loss of a friend, suicide, cutting and the list goes on.
Wintergirls could also be used to trigger students’ own writings with writing prompts to incorporate a scene with food, family, a friend or metaphorical language, using example scenes from the book.
“So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.
She tells me in four sentences. No, five.
I can’t let me hear this, but it’s too late. The facts sneak in and stab me. When she gets to the worst part
“…body found in a motel room, alone…””
“Goal Number Two is 095.00 [pounds], the perfect point of balance. At 095.00, I will be pure. Light enough to walk with my head up, meaty enough to fool everyone. At 095.00, I will have the strength to stay in control. I’ll stand on the blocks hidden in the toes of my satin ballet slippers, pink ribbons sewn into my calves, and rise above up in the air: magical” (pp. 52-53).
“You’re not dead, but you’re not alive, either. You’re a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between the worlds. You’re a ghost with a beating heart” (pp. 195-196).