Google+ Reading Teen: What Does WINTERGIRLS (by Laurie Halse Anderson) Mean to You?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Does WINTERGIRLS (by Laurie Halse Anderson) Mean to You?

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (February 23, 2010)
Author's Website: the Book:  Amazon

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way—thin, thinner, thinnest—maybe she'll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia.
First off, I'll say that I listened to this on audiobook (playaway).  I thought the reader did a pretty good job.  It definitely wasn't my favorite reader, but I tend to like guy readers a lot better than girl readers, so take that into consideration.  She did well, though, and before long I could actually believe that it was Lia talking to me, instead of just someone reading a book, which I think would be the goal in a book like this.  One thing that was strange was that Lia would have thoughts, and in the book they're probably italicized or something, to stand out, but on the audio they put in a tone.  At first I thought there was something wrong with the playaway, but I realized this was their way of differentiating between her conflicting thoughts.

As for the book...

As most of you know by now, we at Reading Teen also take book requests from Teens and Parents  who are interested to know about the content of books before they read them.  We try to give a good idea of the profanity, sex, violence and other things while also talking about the story itself and whether or not we enjoyed it.

This was a book was requested by a teen and a parent, so I decided to pick up the audiobook from our local library.  This isn't necessarily a book I would have picked up on my own because I've never had issues with eating disorders or cutting, and I don't really know anyone (as far as I'm aware) that struggles with these issues.  However, I found the world that Lia was living in absolutely gripping.  To hear the thoughts and struggles that girls go through, was mind-blowing.  And also a little bit overwhelming.  How do you go about helping a girl who is so lost?  And I guess that's one of the wonderful things about this book.  Hopefully it is a help to those who most need it.

I've heard before that some parents have a problem with this book, or others like it, saying that it could be a trigger, causing girls to "try out" anorexia or cutting.  Or causing those who struggle to slip back into the destructive patterns.  So, before I put up my Parental review, I wanted to ask you:

What does this book mean to you?

Whether you struggle with anorexia, bulimia, cutting, suicidal thoughts, or maybe you just know someone who does, how do you feel about this book?  Was it helpful?  Was it harmful?  Would you recommend it to those who struggle?  To their parents?  To everyone?  What would you say to those who think this book is too much?  If you have a link to a post, feel free to add it in your comments.  I will be adding some of the comments to my Parent review.

  • Sexual Content: Mild (with molestation hinted at) 
  • Profanity: Moderate 
  • Violence: Some bullying, suicide, cutting 
  • Other Notables: 
    • Extreme insight into anorexia and bulimia 
    • Underage drinking, smoking 
    • Use of sleeping pills and laxatives


  1. As a teenager, I think this might have been some sort of cutting/anorexia trigger. As an adult, I found it incredibly well-written... and almost poetic. I posted an audiobook review of Wintergirls here:

  2. I am a YA librarian who serves at-risk youth, low-risk youth, and no-risk youth and I can tell you that there is nothing that would trigger a girl to do these things in this book!

    Her best friend DIES and she is haunted by her and the guilt of not being there for her when she dies, she is constantly sick and never beautifies the eating disorder, and she almost dies in the in the world does this trigger someone?

    I will say this until I'm blue in the face but books DON'T TRIGGER TEENS. There are so many other factors and books are an escape for many at-risk teens, not an instruction manual.

    At no time during my high school years when I was 'exploring' my sexuality did I pick up Judy Blume's Forver and try to pick up tips.

    Those are just my two cents though...(=

    (Had to delete my post before because it was under my work blog..OOPS!)

    1. I found this book incredibly triggering. Now it's true that someone who is perfectly healthy mentally is not going to pick up an eating disorder from a book, anyone who has struggled may be triggered.
      As someone who has been depressed, suicidal, and had disordered eating habits, this book sent me on a spiral downward, and continues to do so everytime a read it.

      It is a good book, but not for someone struggling with these issues already.

    2. Thanks for your comments!! I've actually talked to a few people that said this book was a trigger for them as well. While it may be rare that someone has an issue with it, I don't think it's good to say that no one would be triggered by it. Thanks again for sharing with us!

  3. As a Psychology student I wouldn't recommend it to people who are suffering from anorexia, bulimia, cutting because it may give them ideas, it may be a better read who people who have been through it already.

    But I would suggest it to a person who's interested in those themes.

    It can be triggering but only to people who don't have a good self-esteem, who have issues at home, that do not have good relationships with themselves.

    I don't think a person in their right mind is going to read a book about eating disorders and then try it just because. When people go through that kind of problems it usually builds up for a long period of time, and it depends a lot on the family and the person.

    This book was excellent, and as a future Psychologist it gave me a lot of insight, I really liked it.

  4. Wintergirls was amazing. It was emotional, touching on so many levels, and great read, and I am proud to say own my own copy. Laurie Halse Anderson is an excellent author and writer.

    I do believe it could be a trigger, but only to people who have low-self esteem, have any type of issues, or if the reader is just too young to understand it. I think I wasn't ready to read it the first time I did, and it may have been a sort of "trigger" for me at the time (it might have had to do with my age), but now I don't have any issues getting through this book.

  5. I was genuinely interested in the subject of anorexia/bulimia and I think this book depicted it very well. I found it interesting how at the end of the book I wasn’t quite sure WHAT was Lia’s reason for starving herself; she was fine with her body until Cassie told her being skinny was beautiful, so she just followed Cassie into it?

    Yes, the place Anderson took the reader was deep and dark, but surely anyone who picked up the book in the first place knew as much. I understood and loved Wintergirls more than Cheryl Reinfield’s Scars, which was about self abuse; no matter how much of it I read I couldn’t understand how cutting yourself released you from the past. Wouldn’t looking at those scars just remind you of the past you’re trying to forget? Again, like anorexia, it’s not something I went through (I love my food too much to starve myself, and I am too scared of cutting myself to go actually through with it).

    I agree with Stephanie, I don’t see Wintergirls being a trigger. Maybe someone who’s only read the description would think it would be but anyone who’s read the book would know it isn’t. Lia makes sense to herself, and herself ONLY. Anderson shows the reality of being anorexic; Lia is mentally and physically unstable. The way she counts calories made my “I-need-to-lose-weight” friends seem childish. Her drive, her reason for being so skinny wasn’t clearly explained to us, never once was her anorexia blamed on skinny magazine models or actresses; she just NEEDED to be skinnier than she was. And maybe that is anorexia, maybe at some point the person forgets why they’re doing that they are. I thought losing her friend to it would make her stop, I didn’t think she’d carry on stronger than before, which was another reason why I read the book.
    It was beautifully written and it had a happy ending. I would say if a parent let their kid(s) read it to try and have a discussion about it afterwards. If someone reading this book was already suffering from anorexia I think it’d show them the realistic side to it, after all Lia was smart; she knew what she was doing every step of the way and what it was doing to her body, but her common sense was so upside down it made sense to no one but herself.
    I think it is a perfect fit in a school library :)

  6. Like all other psychological disorders, the causes of anorexia are complex. Personality, family, genetic, and cultural factors interact to cause the disorder in varying levels of severity. If a teen is curious about it, there are, sadly, tons of places on the internet where she (or he) could go to find the same information presented in this book, only raw and unfiltered and skewed. I think the good thing about Wintergirls is that it doesn't glorify the illness. It shows the brutal reality of it.

    For any teen, having a trusted adult with whom to process any issues the book might raise would be best, but that's true of ANY book and any type of media. If we go around trying to buffer teens from any content that could raise thoughts of what it might be like to try something risky ... um, never mind, that's impossible. Those thoughts are part of being a teen. Whether they act on them is a different matter entirely, a result of the factors I mentioned above. (I'm a child psychologist, by the way)

  7. I loved Wintergirls! I didn't experience any of the issues brought up in the book when I was younger or now, so I felt it gave me an excellent window into what might be going through the mind of a girl who does.

    I am also a Teen Librarian who deals with a wide variety of teens on a daily basis. No teen that I know of read something in a book that they then felt the need to go out and try. Books give a window into a world that you don't experience yourself.

    If someone is considering an eating disorder, they don't decide to try it based on a fictional book. However, a book dealing with these issues provide a great beginning to discussing these problems with teens considering it. The teens I talk with all know they can talk to me about anything. We've read books on school shootings, rape, and teen pregnancy. For me, it provides an excellent beginning for a conversation on these topics. No teen I know read a book about teen pregnancy then ran out and got pregnant. The same works for cutting, eating disorders, and molestation. Teens are smarter than most people like to think.

  8. Wintergirls is a stunningly well-written book. What I've read of it, anyway. I'm an adult woman dealing with issues of anxiety and depression. I have never been anorexic, but I have self-harmed, both in my teens and again in recent years.

    Wintergirls was, for me, triggering. Reading it did not trigger behavior, but it did evoke intense overwhelming emotion, to the extent that I decided that I had to put down the book and save it for a time in my life when I'm feeling stronger.

    I know that the comments of the librarian above are well-intended, but books can and do evoke powerful emotions in readers, and a reader who hasn't learned healthy ways to deal with strong emotions may use maladaptive strategies to deal with them. I think it's important for parents to work with their children to find healthy strategies for coping with intense feelings -- talking, crying, exercising, volunteering, blogging, making art, finding meaningful ways to connect with others.

    I'm looking forward to one day reading all the way through this book. I started reading it last Fall and put it down after about 3 or 4 sit-downs with it, and realized that it just was not the right time.

  9. Need to add two things:
    1) I am not suggesting that this book has no place in a school library, it absolutely does. I don't condone hiding material from teens. Ever.
    2) The librarian I was referring to was Stephanie W, who said "books don't trigger teens." I respectfully disagree, but again I don't think that's any reason to withhold material from them.

  10. As an avid Anderson reader and one who experiences issues such as these, I was most appreciative of the fact that the book was even written. It was triggering, but in a way that later helped me understand some of the things I was feeling.

    The book itself provides a lens through which I could get a grasp on what the reality FOR LIA was. This book, in my opinion, offers a look into what COULD happen, not what necessarily WILL happen. Regardless, the book was a portrait well drawn, and I am happier having read it.

  11. You cannot "catch" a disorder from reading a book. You have a disorder first and then things can "trigger" you.

    I do not recommend this for people with similar disorders. I say this because Wintergirls is not a self-help book. There are no resources in the back of the book - no websites, no further reading lists. The author told a story, an important one, but she is not a doctor. We shouldn't "medicate" people with books when we are not doctors either.

    I take the idea that a book could "trigger" someone with a disorder seriously and I don't think we should dismiss it. But it's for parents to decide if it's harmful for their kid. Otherwise, this is a lyrical, dark and heart wrenching story meant for the general reader.

  12. I spent my childhood and teen years trying to look like Twiggy. Now I would have been called anorexic. Reading the book brought back my memories of starving myself because I was trying to reach some impossible ideal. I thought I was the only person in the world to think those thoughts. Personally, it was validation of how sick I was and how sick the society was at the time to glorify extreme thinness.
    I got the book from the library because my 12 yr old daughter has a friend who is currently hospitalized for anorexia. My daughter can't understand her friend's need not to eat. This book has triggered some good conversations with my daughter, and I've told her about my eating past. I'm hoping the book and conversations will help her understand her friend's disorder and help her to be supportive to her recovery.

  13. I LOVE this book. It means so much to me, as I have struggled with eating disorders myself. Was such an inspiring book. The ending was absolutely perfect.

  14. This is one of those books I just can't bring myself to read based on the content - even though I've heard it is great.

    Maybe I'll try it eventually.

  15. This book actually did trigger me. I picked it up by accident in the school library in 2010, thinking it was a continuation from one of my favourite Melissa Marr books, considering 'Winter Girls' are a major part of the faery court in those. When I read it I was thinking, 'What is a calorie? Why does she keep stating all these numbers?' At this time I was already in a bad place self-esteem wise and starting to consciously take note of weight and exercise - I didn't finish the book, but some of the behaviours (gradual restriction of food and excessive exercise, NEVER bingeing or purging though, guess I was more like Lia than Cassie) crept into my life without my even noticing. Now THAT'S insidious. I lost 20 kilos in five months and had to be hospitalised and have suffered from severe restrictive anorexia ever since. The book had a major part to play in it, I believe, considering I hadn't actually heard of anorexia before it and I didn't know what a calorie was.

  16. ^ Oh, and in the depths of anorexia I did manage to finish the book and got triggered AGAIN.

    1. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! I hope you were able to get the help you needed. I know Laurie actually provides some information on how to get help.

      It's really interesting to see how different things have a different effect on different people. I know a few different people who have been triggered by this or similar books. But I also know people who were helped by this book. I think authors need to think about this and be very careful when approaching these subjects.

      Thanks again!

  17. As an otherwise rational, intelligent 19-year-old who had been struggling with disordered thoughts about eating, I gulped down Lia's story voraciously. I loved it. I couldn't put it down. I thought it was an incredibly accurate depiction of some people's experiences with eating disorders. And, at the same time, it was triggering for me. I had never been to the depths of where she was, even in my thoughts, but I related to some parts of her thinking, and I was impressed by how she controlled herself, and sort of thought that I was pretty reasonable in comparison, and that that made my thinking somewhat okay. Furthermore, from what I've experienced and have seen in other girls, eating disorders can be particularly motivated and triggered by competition and comparison. Those who think that the darkness and unhappiness of Lia's life prevent this book from being a trigger should understand that even most vulnerable readers would not want to BE Lia or experience that darkness, they might find their unhealthy thoughts falling in sync with hers at best, or see her as a competitor, an example of incredible self-control and strategy, at worst. It sounds unreasonable. It is unreasonable. But it's real. Students should absolutely have access to this book, but teens and young adults who have struggled with eating disorders would be wise to stay away.


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