Brutally Honest Story of Eating Disorders in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Brilliant New Novel

wintergirls

Lia and Cassie were best friends since grade school.  They shared a pact to see who could be the skinniest.  Lia was anorexic and Cassie was bulimic.  The story begins with Cassie’s death.  She was found dead in a hotel room, but we don’t know the exact details of her death until later in the book.  Laurie Halse Anderson’s dramatic prose takes us into the painful mind of a girl with a hideously deformed self image.  She describes in great detail Lia’s self loathing as she trains her body to go without food.

Lia takes us into pro-anorexia chat rooms where girls encourage each other not to eat.

“My fingers reach through the screen and comb through the garbage until they find the home of the shrieking chorus, hungry girls singing endless anthems while our throats bleed and rust and fill up with loneliness.  I could scroll through these songs for the rest of my life and never find the beginning.”

Lia’s parents are divorced so she moves in with her father and step-mother after another stint in a hospital.  She hides the fact that she’s losing more weight with a fixed scale and baggy clothes.  As her body craves food, she chants painful insults to keep herself from taking a bite.  Cassie’s ghost haunts her at night, further driving down her self-esteem and size.

This was such a painful and powerful read!  I felt Lia’s despair, along with her parents who were begging her to “just eat, don’t you want to live?”  Anderson’s beautiful writing just gets into your head and swims around.    I can’t wait to share this book with my teen girl book club.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Talk about body image and other factors that could have lead up to Lia and Cassie’s eating disorders.

Is the destruction of their health worth being skinny?

Have the teens read aloud some of the passages, such as the one listed above and discuss them.

Talk about other ways teenage girls degrade themselves.  How can they become so lost?

Do they think Cassie’s ghost is real?  Have they ever felt haunted?

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