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Book Bag: Wintergirls

“I bit the days off in rows. . . . Bite. Chew. Swallow."

Laurie Halse Anderson's new novel, Wintergirls, is narrated by 18-year-old Lia, who has had anorexia since the 8th grade.

It begins on the morning that she finds out that her best friend Cassie has died, and follows her through her struggle with anorexia and its paradoxical dictates: sickness is strength, courting death is taking control, and nourishment is weakness. Having lost Cassie, with whom she bonded over anorexia, Lia finds comfort in "pro-ana" anorexia chat rooms. To find out what one reviewer thought of Wintergirls as well as why some experts worry about anorexia narratives,


Described by one reviewer as "a fearless, riveting account of a young woman in the grip of a deadly illness," Wintergirls and other books with eating disorders as their subject nevertheless spark fears among those who work with anorexic patients. Will these narratives help them to explore their disorders in order to get well, or will it serve as a "thinspiration" trigger, stoking their self-destructive desires to waste away?

"There is a dangerous trend to view anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than a serious mental illness," says Cynthia M. Bulik, director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It is true that seeing someone they perceive as thinner, seeing pictures of other thin girls, hearing about someone’s new approach to starvation, can all trigger someone with anorexia or someone who is on the verge. There is an inexplicable competitiveness about the starvation process in this illness."

Have you known anyone with anorexia or have you struggled with it yourself? Do books like Wintergirls help or harm?

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