Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

My Rating: 5 stars

Wintergirls has been one of my favorite books since high school, so I was excited when Forgotten YA Gems chose it for our November read. However, it can also be a dangerous book as well. It contains detailed depictions of an eating disorder and self-harm that can be extremely triggering. If you struggle with one or both of these, please be aware of this when picking up the book.

Anderson does a fantastic job depicting an eating disorder. I say that as someone who has an eating disorder. In my opinion, Anderson has captured the disordered thoughts and compulsive needs to track and exercise perfectly. At times it can be painful to read because it is so real. Probably the most important thing is that she doesn’t romanticize it. It is clear throughout the book that this is a horrible disease that no one should ever want. Even when Lia’s eating disorder causes her to believe this is what’s best for her, the audience knows it is dangerous and damaging. And she doesn’t shy away from the ugliest parts of the disease. She discusses the horrors it can wreak on a person’s body, such as the effects of purging through laxatives and purging. Again, it’s painful to read. But I think it’s much needed representation of what an eating disorder really is.

I also considered Lia to be a realistic and relatable main character. One of the main complaints I see in review of this book is that Lia is so unlikeable. And I won’t lie, she is. She’s selfish, makes poor decisions, and is overall kind of a jerk. But I think a lot of people don’t realize how realistic this is. In my experience, eating disorders take over a person’s life so completely that even their personality is affected; hobbies fall to the wayside and relationships deteriorate. It’s a part of the disorder. We view Lia as selfish because she continually presses on even though it’s hurting those around her. But it’s the disorder causing that; it’s not Lia’s real personality. We do see glimpse of the real Lia peeking through in childhood flashbacks, her knitting hobby, and her relationship with Emma, her stepsister. I can understand why some people may not enjoy reading a book about a character like this, but I appreciated how honestly Anderson portrayed her.

Another thing I loved that may be a problem for some people is Anderson’s writing style. Whereas Speak is written in a fairly plain style, Wintergirls is much more stylized and experimental. Her language is a lot more flowery, and there is a near constant use of metaphors. She also uses crossed out words, repeated words (sometimes over multiple pages), and various page alignments. I think it works well to portray Lia’s state of mind. But I realize this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and some people may really hate it.

Overall, Wintergirls is a raw and real depiction of an eating disorder. It’s a beautiful book and provides important representation that I think can be helpful for people trying to understand eating disorders. But it can be upsetting and should be approached with some caution.

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