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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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allenorton allenorton 8 years
Ok. So, while I agree that this woman is a good writer, and I understand that many young girls and women alike enjoy her books, I have to say that marketing a book about anorexia to the age group (13-17) where symptoms of anorexia begin showing is downright terrible! The girls reading these books are at a very tender, impressionable age, and I feel that reading a book that details anorexia so intensely and even provides names of pro-ana websites can be extremely damaging to their emotional and physical health. Of course, there will be people who read this book who don't have an ED and are not pre-disposed to having one that will learn about the disease and gain some helpful insight into the mind of an anorexic. However, a lot of people that have read or will read this book ARE pre-disposed to having an ED, and reading a book like this can definitely be a trigger. And, there is also the possibility that girls who don't already have an ED will read this and become curious about anorexia and unwittingly get themselves into a huge mess. The mind of a 14 year old girl is complicated; this book may cause pro-ana cliques at schools an other things like that since girls at that age tend to get really wrapped up in what is socially acceptable at the time. If this book is popular among young girls, is it not a logical process of thought to say, " Group of girls read this book...some may already be pre-disposed to EDs and this book is a trigger, while simply raising curiosity in others...pack mentality takes over and girls that don't have the problem already may start becoming anorexic to fit in with their other ED friends." Perhaps that might not be right, but I know for a fact that if I had read this book at 14, I would have been fascinated and my anorexia which developed around age 17 would have been triggered much earlier. There was a comment on the post about this book on Jezebel where a school librarian said that she'd seen girls take home "Cut" by the same author, and come back with scratches and cuts all over their arms. A group of friends and I in 7th grade read the controversial "Go Ask Alice", and soon one fell into drug addiction shortly thereafter (cocaine at 14?!?) and then another and another. Eventually every one of my friends that read that book, including myself, succumbed to drug addiction for a while, although now we are all thankfully free of that. I just re-read it the other day, and as an adult I can appreciate how it truthfully details every aspect of drug use and addiction and what goes through a young girl's mind during that time. After I had done all of the drugs she did in that book, I could sympathize with the character and point out where she went wrong with her drug use. However, I really wish I hadn't read it at 13. It made drugs, an extreme taboo (esp. in the US), seem wild, fun, and rebellious. The fact that she died at the end had no effect on my young mind whatsoever. All I was looking for was something I could use as an escape, and I didn't even know what most drugs were until I read that book. I am by no means blaming the book itself, because as I said it is a well-written chronicle of young addiction, just as "Wintergirls" is a well-written chronicle of someone suffering through anorexia. I do however, disagree with marketing books like this to young girls, who tend to look past the dangers of these issues and only see the glamour of drugs or anorexia, the control the characters have over their lives due to their problems, and the exciting rebelliousness and attention that comes with being 'messed up' on drugs or an ED. And I am simply APPALLED at the person that says "people with eating disorders are just too self-pitying and selfish....ugh, get over yourself. Sorry if that offends, but that's how I see it. I don't feel sorry for people with EDs any more than I do for people who smoke and end up with cancer or over eaters with heart disease." I have to reiterate what the commenter above says. It is a POWERFUL mental ILLNESS that yes, some people willingly get themselves into, but eventually it takes over every aspect of your life and becomes uncontrollable. When I looked at myself in the mirror after losing 45 pounds in 2 months, weighing in at 95lbs, and thought I could still lose a little bit more fat on my thighs, it's not like I didn't know that was messed up. I knew I was too thin, but I couldn't change my habits. People with EDs can know that they're techincally too thin, but the mental illness part of it is that it is all-consuming and you can no longer control your non-eating habits, even if in your head you understand that there is a problem. Having something wrong with your brain that you simply cannot control is by no means self-pitying or selfish. It is an illness. I got myself into it because I was getting chubby and wanted to lose weight and that slid into complete loss of control. I am also bi-polar, if I am off meds I will become extremely depressed and sucidal and cry about how crappy I think my life is. Does my self-pity make it any less of an chemical imbalance? NO. has been proven that anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses, and even if you don't agree, it is extremely disrespectful to those that have struggled with those diseases to call them "self-pitying and selfish".
bengalspice bengalspice 8 years
I still have to read this book ... but I think that the YA imprint is trying to be edgy by having such a narrative.
Love-and-Sex Love-and-Sex 8 years
Well, WeTheLiving, certain mental illnesses are culture-specific. I'm no expert, but I imagine that this disorder is informed by the abundance that surrounds the person and the emptiness she or he feels. (Also, media images here encourage a very specific body type — superthin.) I don't understand eating disorders because I don't have one, but I feel compassion for people who have them.
WeTheLiving WeTheLiving 8 years
Books like this probably don't help people with eating disorders cuz even if it shows dire consequences, it still makes a heroine out of the sufferer. Even if it's fiction, people with an ED will still see their reasons for what they do justified in the mind of the heroine. And these books certainly don't make me feel sympathy for sufferers. I can't help but feel that people with eating disorders are just too self-pitying and selfish. Even that one line above from the book, my thought is just "waaa, waaa, poor me", ugh, get over yourself. Sorry if that offends, but that's how I see it. I don't feel sorry for people with EDs any more than I do for people who smoke and end up with cancer or over eaters with heart disease. I'm not even sure if I agree that it's a mental illness. Do people in poverty stricken countries who are starving get ED's? If it's a mental illness, shouldn't they or is that not how it works?
superjules superjules 8 years
I've never had an eating disorder but I've had roommates who had bulimia. It's very hard for me to work up any sympathy for people who starve themselves to be skinny. To be brutally honesty, it's actually impossible. Thousands of people die every day for want of a meal and rich females all over the world purposefully starve themselves. There is no logic.
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 8 years
I''ve never had it but I think narratives of the condition are an insight into what goes on in the sufferers head. It helps me understand.
kty kty 8 years
i've never struggled with anorexia but i've been around people who do and i don't really think that books like this help them fight it i think it might help trigger it all over again.
nancita nancita 8 years
As someone who has not struggled with anorexia, I found any representation of it in books horrifying and fascinating. I doubt if a novel could push you in the direction of an eating disorder if you didn't have that tendency anymore than a peer could. Also, doesn't Cynthia M. Bulik look like an anagram for bulimia?
tellmemorex2 tellmemorex2 8 years
I loved this book. All of Laurie Halse Anderson's books are great.
jocupcake jocupcake 8 years
While it's nice that someone is telling the stories of their struggles... I agree with the previous posts. I was lucky and only starved myself for a year, but I used to LOVE watching movies and reading about anorexia. I'm even drawn to stuff like that still.
equestriennechic equestriennechic 8 years
I agree... documentaries about eating disorders for example make me feel like I should be able to have willpower like that or something... the idea is that putting it out into the open how horrible it is should make it less desirable, but it doesn't really...
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
Honestly, when I was anorexic, I would prowl the self-help section of the bookstore, find the ED narratives, and comb through them for "diet tips." Not to say it's like that for everyone, but for me this type of book always acted as a trigger or twisted inspiration, and honestly sort of still tweaks me out today.
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