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on March 21, 2009
Yes, Lia struggles with an eating disorder, but this is not another "problem" YA novel. The "problem" is that Lia has a messy life...tangled family relationships, guilt over opportunities lost, futures that frighten, pasts that seem mythically golden. In other words, Anderson has plunged straight into the heart and mind of a real teen. Usually I cheat and read reviews and the flap copy before I begin a book, but I decided to read this one "cold." The writing was so true and compelling, I had to keep reading and reading and reading...even though I was sitting in the middle of a mall that was about to close. This is NOT a book about anorexia, although that is one of the symptoms of Lia's true problem...learning to forgive herself for not being any of the many "versions" that the others in her life...her parents, stepmother, doctors, therapists, teachers, fellow students, but most of all her former friend Cassie...wish her to be. This is not a self-help book. It's a self-acceptance book. Yes, it is gritty and terrifying in some places. I am an adult, and have never had an eating disorder, but with her first paragraph Anderson yanked be back to my teenage self, and the (real-to-me) terrors that stalked my soul, the self-disgust for not "living up to my potential." I would recommend this to anyone over the age of fourteen...and ESPECIALLY PARENTS who might need a refresher course on just how stressful it is to be 18 or even 14.
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VINE VOICEon May 18, 2009
This is the story of an adolescent girl suffering from anorexia. It details her weight obsession for her as well as others, her careful calorie counting, and even her troubled thoughts that lead to her eating disorder and her cutting.

Anderson has not failed with this YA novel. Her past YA accomplishments have also broached difficult, socially taboo subjects (Speak, etc.), but I caution parents and teachers to read this book before assigning it to children. It is heavy subject matter, but the way the story unfolds and the insight into the main character's troubled mind are intense- they were even heavy for me! I live and work at a co-ed boarding school and deal with eating disorders, cutting, aggression, distorted body image, and so much more. I would have to be very sure of the maturity and emotional stability of a girl before suggesting this book.

Wintergirls is a perfect glimpse into the mind of a girl whose actions are almost unimaginable. It also allows the reader to understand how perplexed her family is, how much her actions hurt them, and why they don't understand why she can't just stop killing herself. I suggest this book for any teacher, parent, or adult who regularly deals with the trials and tribulations of female adolescence. It will undoubtedly shed some light upon the pain and torture of all involved with eating disorders.
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I've read more than my fair share of scary stores--from the works of Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King to Richard Matheson. But few of those works have ever chilled me, scared me and horrified me as much as Laurie Halse Anderson's "Wintergirls."

Part of it could be that Poe, King and Matheson are dealing in horrors that are terrifying but can be easily rationalized away as being supernatural in nature. The scary part of Anderson's novel is that what you're reading about is a...more I've read more than my fair share of scary stores--from the works of Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King to Richard Matheson. But few of those works have ever chilled me, scared me and horrified me as much as Laurie Halse Anderson's "Wintergirls."

Part of it could be that Poe, King and Matheson are dealing in horrors that are terrifying but can be easily rationalized away as being supernatural in nature. The scary part of Anderson's novel is that what you're reading about is all too scarily real for a lot of young people in our world today.

Lia is a teenage girl with an eating disorder. The story is told from her first-person persepective, making it all the more compelling. As the story begins, Lia is coming to terms with the death of her one-time best friend Cassie. Cassie called Lia 33 times on the night of her death, but Lia never answered. Now, Lia is haunted by that in the most literal sense of the world. Cassie begins to appear to Lia, questioning her and slowly the novel reveals the nature of their friendship and the scary pact the two made together. One afternoon, the two decide to see who can be the thinnest among them.

The pact leads to two admissions to the hospital for Lia and she's slowly on the way to a third. Lia doesn't purge like Cassie does. Instead she denies herself anything more than 500 calories a day and spends hours exercising to try and reduce the few remaining pockets of perceived fat on her body. Lia is convinced that if you can't see bones through her skin, then she's too fat.

The obsession with becoming thin is scarily and eerily presented here. Lia focuses on the weight she wants to be, at one point saying the ideal weight would be zero for herself. Lia also feels like she has tiny evil forces inside her that are only released by cutting herself. She also goes to great lengths to ensure that her step-mother and father don't realize she's losing weight, including drinking copious amounts of water before weigh-ins and sewing quarters into her robe that she wears during the weigh-ins.

Even the horrifying revelation of how Cassie died doesn't deter Lia from her path toward destruction.

Lia's story is a scary, dark one that is probably all too real for many young women in our world today. Anderson's decision to tell the story from inside Lia's head and to see her internal battle with wanting food and convincing herself she can't have it is one of many incredibly vivid moments in a book that will keep your attention. I read and liked her novel "Speak" because it allowed readers inside the character's head. "Wintergirls" follows the same convention but takes it to a wholly different level. Readers will both identify with Lia, but we're kept detached enough to see that what she's doing isn't heroic, but self-destructive. You'll be rooting for her to get the help she so desparately need and as the situation slowly sinks into greater and greater dispair, you'll be hoping and praying Lia won't meet the same end as Cassie.
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on June 4, 2014
Laurie Halse Anderson is a talented writer and has authored some tremendous YA novels. I suspect this was intended to address a serious problem and help teens recognize the dangers and therefore, avoid anorexia. Unfortunately, it has become a how-to manual for many, and is a favorite now among web sites that promote anorexia. As a resource for parents who suspect their child might be struggling with this very real, and very deadly disease, I would recommend it. Otherwise, I have decided to remove if from my shelves.
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on May 25, 2009
As someone who has "recovered" from a six year battle with an eating disorder, I was hesitant to read this book at first. I've been afraid to read anything that could possibly be triggering, and that is exactly what this book was.
This book is a haunting, and all too familiar account (for me personally) of what life was like with an eating disorder.
However do not let this deter you from reading the book. Wintergirls pulled me back into what life was like living with an eating disorder as well as the misery of it, which is so brilliantly illustrated by Anderson in this novel.
Ultimately, the ending of the book calmed all the things the book triggered for me and it proved to be an emotional and heart wrenching story.
I DEFINITELY recommend Wintergirls for not only those who have suffered from an eating disorder, but anyone, as it allows readers to put themselves in the shoes of someone suffering from such a debilitating disease.
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on July 8, 2009
I'm surprised there is so little criticism of this book!

I don't normally write reviews, but I finished the book a couple weeks ago and have been letting my thoughts simmer, unable to just forget it. Amazon seems to have eaten my review (maybe it will be posted in a couple days?). I decided to look for more dissenting opinions on here.

4 or 5 stars for great writing. Anderson creates a page turner and certainly has an admirable command of language.

2 stars for...more I'm surprised there is so little criticism of this book!

I don't normally write reviews, but I finished the book a couple weeks ago and have been letting my thoughts simmer, unable to just forget it. Amazon seems to have eaten my review (maybe it will be posted in a couple days?). I decided to look for more dissenting opinions on here.

4 or 5 stars for great writing. Anderson creates a page turner and certainly has an admirable command of language.

2 stars for depth.

Most articles and even many books about eating disorders focus on the horror! and the drama! and the hospitalizations! and the emaciation! of it all, making diseases like anorexia sound like sickly appealing bids for popularity. Anderson goes a little beyond that, but not far.

I can't really say that anything in this book is _wrong_. The obsessive thoughts and messages running through Lia's head are dead-on. Her behaviors are textbook, and the degradation of her body is sadly a reality for many.

We sense that something is not quite right in Lia's world, but Anderson never gives us enough information to speculate as to what's fueling the obsession. We see that Lia is grieving, we see that she hates her family, we see that her self esteem is cripplingly low - but there's not much more to her than that. The reader is likely to interpret her feelings as little more than ordinary teenage angst - when eating disorders are about so much more than that.

I hesitate to write this, because there is no one-size-fits-all description of someone with anorexia or bulimia. But I do wonder at the stereotypes Anderson chooses to embrace and reject. Here's what we know about Cassie: she's an over-extended people-pleaser very involved in her community, but she has low self esteem. All of that sounds like textbook bulimia. Lia, on the other hand, is rich, unhappy, and the daughter of divorced parents. That's about all we know about her outside of her obsession with food and weight-loss. I seriously reject the notion that only rich girls develop anorexia. A stereotype that is commonly true of anorectics, though, is that they are perfectionists, and many are overachievers. Lia is none of these things - and although those aren't requirements for anorexia, Anderson doesn't give us anything else to go on. Lia doesn't care about her grades, doesn't care about pissing people off, doesn't want to go to college, doesn't really do anything or hold any aspirations other than her next goal weight. And while eating disorders commonly do reach this life-consuming point, we never get a glimpse of what Lia is aside from a series of behaviors and pounds lost.

To her credit, Anderson includes a paragraph or two describing anxiety. I respect her hesitation to avoid spelling out the lesson to be learned or gift-wrapping the text. But as a writer, Anderson fails to dig. The novel is more like a circus - strange and fascinating to watch, but several steps short of revealing.

To be fair, the novel _is_ accurate. It just isn't enough. I am really amazed by reviewers who say, "Wow, now I understand anorexia!" when Anderson describes only the obsessive thoughts in Lia's head (of course we have no idea why or how they got there) and the way she behaved in response to those thoughts. Readers, whether they know much or little about eating disorders, won't walk away having gained more insight than an article on Lindsay Lohan would give them.

Anderson notes that she interviewed clinicians and visited pro anorexia websites during her research. I just don't feel that that was sufficient. People who are pro eating disorders are sure to love this book the way they love Wasted, but unlike Wasted, we see only the train wreck - without insight.

P.S. If I am going to nitpick insignificant details, here they are:
1) The police scene is not believable. You can access your voice mail from any phone. So they for sure would have investigated the messages further.
2) The car running out of gas (Lia of course drove it on empty for many miles) is too much of a forced, obvious metaphor for me, and Anderson seems a little too proud of this contrived feat.
3) The relationships are stiff. Not stiff the way a real relationship can be, but stiff the way they are written.

For real, Anderson is a gifted writer. But I think there is more to great literature than a captivating narrative.
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on January 6, 2012
In my mind, an eating disorder is the ultimate manifestation of both poor body image, and a distorted self-perception. I graduated with a BS in Psychology last December, and in one of my undergrad classes, we devoted a large percentage of time to discussing eating disorders and where they stem from. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best books I've read this year, and I would say that it is the best book I've ever read that handles eating disorders.

Lia is a young girl who has been suffering from anorexia for several years. She's been hospitalized twice, and the family tries to help keep watch over Lia, and make sure she is eating. They weigh her regularly and prepare meals and 'watch' her eat. But Lia is clever, and she is unable to give up her disorder. She cleverly lines the pockets of the robe she is weighed in with quarters and smears food on a plate before dumping it down the garbage disposal to give the appearance of having eaten. For a long time, Lia feels like she is in control and that losing all this weight makes her powerful. However, after the death of her former best friend, Cassie. Lia's world begins falling apart and she loses control over her life. Toward the end of the novel, she begins to make observations and gains new understanding that gives the reader hope she will overcome her illness.

I think one of the most telling sentences in this book is when Lia really starts to realize what this disease is to her, and where her motivation to starve herself comes from. She keeps obsessive track of her weight, and gives herself goals- I'm 105 lbs? I need to be 100. And on from there. She steps on the scale one day and the number reads 89. Her thoughts, "I could say I'm excited, but that would be a lie. The number doesn't matter. If I got down to 070.00, I'd want 065.00. If I weighed 010.00, I wouldn't be happy until I got down to 005.00. The only number that would ever be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double-zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it. (emphasis added, pg. 220)

I think that there is too much focus placed on the body-image problems facing people who suffer from an eating disorder, and not enough attention given to their warped views of themselves. In one of my undergrad classes, we discussed this at length, and talked about new research being developed that suggests the root causes for many people suffering from eating disorders stem from far more than the desire to be skinny or even the desire to control at least one aspect of their lives. Although both of those play a role in the formation of the disorder, the new research suggests that these eating disorders actually stem more from the desire to disappear. Subconsciously they view themselves as unworthy of love, and that because of their flaws or imperfections, they are not worthy to take up space. So, they are literally trying to starve themselves out of existence. They don't necessarily want to die, but neither do they wish to live. It's scary research, but it's research that makes a frightening amount of sense. That LHA was able to grasp that idea and articulate it so well with just a small paragraph, and a simple sentence speaks volumes to me about her skill as a writer, and her ability to develop believable and realistic characters. Lia just breaks my heart.

One of the most powerful aspects of the novel is also potentially distracting. LHA uses the strike through text to signify the difference between what Lia was thinking and what Lia actually said. Or, it could be what Lia thought vs. what she knew she was supposed to think. Either way, the strike through offers additional insight into the mind of Lia, and enables us as readers to better understand what she's really thinking.

I recommend this book to everyone, even though I know it won't be for everyone. LHA doesn't pull her punches with this one, and I really felt that I was living the life of an anorexic teen along with Lia. And let me tell you, it was not comfortable. It was scary, painful and terrifying. I can only imagine how much worse it would be for someone actually suffering through this. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book as soon as possible. But I warn you, don't pick it up expecting a light read that will fill a few hours. This novel is gripping, intense and horrifying. It is one of the best books I've read all year and I just can't bring myself to give it anything but my highest rating. It is basically amazing in every way. Way to go Laurie, for creating a book that gives us such a vivid portrait of a young anorexic girl who suddenly understands what it is to live.
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on December 24, 2011
My Thoughts:

Three words: powerful and raw.

Allow me to expand on this. When I bought this book, my initial thoughts were that it would be a good read. Since Speak is such an amazing book, how can I expect anything less by Laurie Halse Anderson? I didn't expect it to reach the amazingness of Speak. But man, I was wrong. So wrong. Wintergirls pulled through and, as much as I have a special place for what Speak stands for, I believe I loved it equally as much.

I need to be honest. I don't understand the desire to be skinny to the point of anorexia and bulimia and starving oneself (I understand wanting to be skinny in general, but not to the extreme). It's not something I've dealt with, so I feared I wouldn't be able to relate or care for a character that has that view of themselves. And I admit, listening to Lia speak of her weight the way she did, I sometimes wanted to punch her back to reality. BUT. I kept in mind the fact that when someone has body dysmorphic disorder, they can't view themselves in any way except bigger than they really are. Hence the constant need to lose weight. I began to be pulled into Lia's world of misconstrued views on her appearance. I could see the imperfections from her eyes. I could feel the illusions playing tricks on my mind.

The anorexia wasn't enough though. Lia also cut. Which is another thing I cannot relate to. With good reason because when she cut, I felt sick to my stomach and I wanted to escape and get out of her head. But I couldn't put the book down. I had to keep reading. The thought of the cutting caused me to have that achy feeling spread through my body. I couldn't stop imagining the times I've gotten cut on something, that initial feeling just kept repeating. It was so disturbing and scary to see how far people go to feel something.

Lia's journey is one that takes on more than just the anorexia and the cutting. Her best friend Cassie is dead. The one who was just as obsessive about staying skinny. The one who half cheered her on and half wanted to be the skinniest. She can't stop thinking about Cassie. She can't stop seeing her everywhere she goes. Her family is trying to save her, but Lia doesn't want to be saved. She wants to be thinner. She doesn't want to get to the weight the doctors tell her is healthy. She wants to be less than the skinny she already is. Over 100 pounds is not what she wants. She wants 95. She wants 85. But where will it end?

I was overcome with many emotions throughout this book. Writing out this review was like reliving the emotions all over again. Yes, I don't have the desire to be extremely skinny. Yes, I don't have the desire to cut myself in an attempt to feel. But I have come to understand more about those who have those desires through the words Laurie Halse Anderson has penned in this novel. Wintergirls is one of those books that will not go away, just like Speak. Lia will stay with you a long time.

My Rating:

Exceptional: Stay up until at least 1 AM
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on September 16, 2012
This is a well written fiction book. I did thoroughly enjoy it. However it is a work of fiction and although it protrays some cases of Anorexia well it did miss the true experience of Anorexia Nervosa and its consequences. I feel that it slightly portrays Anorexia as glamorous and this potentually could trigger people into Anorexia. I would thoroughly recommend this book for reading as a fiction book and not as an insight into this disorder. It is well written like Speak however lacks the true understanding.
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on June 9, 2015
I love Laurie Anderson. I read Speak when I was in 8th grade and I seriously could not put it down. I am 25 now, but I still love reading her books. The way she writes is like a flowing river - always moving and I can't take my eyes off of it.
Wintergirls was fun to read, even though it's about a tragic reality that some people go through. At times during this read I got frustrated with Lia's selfishness, and that this book is about a girl with an eating disorder who comes from a wealthy family of doctors and professors, which doesn't make it very relatable. I still enjoyed the book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes books about sad/ grim topics.
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