“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia.
Book Title: Wintergirls Genre: Young Adult Fiction Author: Laurie Halse Anderson Type: Hardcover 288 pages Publisher: Viking Publication Date: March 2009
I’m going to try something a little different this time. Instead of the typical review, I am going to answer some of the questions found in the Wintergirls Discussion Guide. So if you haven’t read this book yet, there may be spoilers ahead – if you don’t want to go any further I’ll just say Wintergirls is a wonderful book that I’d recommend to teens, parents, adults and anyone who has an interest in eating-disorders.
♦ What do the crossed-out words and phrases reveal about Lia? Why can’t she allow herself to say or think some things? What is she afraid will happen if she does?
This creative use of textual strikethroughs was an excellent way to show how Lia was going through an inner battle with herself. It provided the reader with a way to experience how every thought that Lia had was a decision whether to be weak or strong. Almost like having the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Lia edits these things in her mind, I think, because it gives her a sense of power, a feeling that she can control something.
My traitor fingers want that fudge.No, they don’t. They want a seven layer bar and some of those weird muffins and those pretzels.No, they do not. They want to squish the marshmallows and stuff them into my mouth.They will not.
♦ Does Lia want to lose weight so she will look thin and pretty? What does her thinness mean to her? How does she think it gives her power?
I don’t think it has anything to do with looking thin and pretty in the obvious way. At first I think she followed Cassie’s lead. Cassie was tormented by their classmates for developing breasts earlier than the others, and learned from camp friends that skinny was better. So the two girls together developed this ideal in their minds that skinnier was better, if they weighed less than the other girls they would be seen as stronger, better people. This type of thinking at such a young age seems to have negatively changed their outlook and perspectives, along with the help of their competition, evolving into a dangerous journey to perfection that took over their every thought. Later as teens, they both experienced problems like divorce, pressure from parents, loss of friendship, stress from school etc. and they turned their eating disorders into something different. It was no longer about their looks, it was a way to say “screw you” to the world. They may not be able to control the things happening to them in their lives, but they could control themselves. Parents can tell them what to do, society can tell them how to be – but no one except Lia and Cassie themselves can control their own bodies.
When Lia is eating in front of her family, she feels the power she has over her family. Lia can tell they want to make her eat more, but they won’t push the matter because they are afraid she will eat nothing if they do.
I spread my napkin in my lap, then cut my turkey into two pieces, then four, then eight, then sixteen white bites. The Brussels sprouts are quartered. I scrape the cheese off a sliver of potato – which will not kill me, potatoes rarely cause death – and shove it into my mouth and chew, chew, chew, smiling across the tablecloth. Dad and Jennifer watch the division on my plate, but they don’t say anything about it. When I first moved in, this would have been called “disordered behavior” and Jennifer’s voice would pitch up high an Dad would twist his wedding band around and around his finger. Now it falls under the category of “battles not worth fighting, because at least she’s sitting at the table eating with us, and her weight hasn’t dropped into dangerland.”
♦ The night Cassie dies, why does she call Lia? Would it have made a difference if Lia had answered? Why or why not? Could anything have saved Cassie?
Cassie calls Lia on the night she dies, over and over she calls, until the calls stop just before she dies. It’s not clear why Cassie was calling Lia, perhaps she wanted Lia to help her. The two girls started out together and maybe she felt that Lia was the only one who would understand what was going on. Maybe Cassie finally realized just what they were doing and how bad things could get. Or maybe she had hit rock bottom and only wanted the motivation that Lia always gave her, the encouragement to keep going. Whatever direction Cassie hoped Lia would help her in, I think it was their former friendship that prompted Cassie to call that night. Would anything have saved Cassie? I’m not sure anyone could have done anything, both her body and her mind were so severely injured. Then again maybe the two girls together could have found the answers they needed to overcome their weaknesses. Maybe if Lia had gone to Cassie and seen how far she’d fallen, Lia could have found the strength to pull both of them back up. Or maybe they both would have died.
We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers. We danced with witches and kissed monsters. We turned us into wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was too afraid to be alone.
♦ Discuss Lia’s relationship with Elijah. When she first meets him and lies about her identity, why do you think she chooses to give her stepsister’s name as her own? What is Elijah able to give Lia that the other people in her life cannot?
Elijah seems to give Lia the freedom to be who she wants to be. Around him she can be whatever and whoever she wants. He allows her to live a fantasy life as a normal girl. Lia does not have to be what he wants, there are no expectations to fulfill. It isn’t what Elijah gives to Lia, but what he doesn’t ask for. So in a way, Lia gets personal freedom from being with Elijah and that’s something she never feels with her family.
I am almost a real girl the entire drive home. I went to a diner. I drank hot chocolate and ate french fries. Talked to a guy for a while. Laughed a couple of times. A little like ice-skating for the first time, wobbly, but I did it.
♦ In the newspaper article about Cassie’s death, the superintendent of schools says, “Most teens today struggle with something.” Do you agree?
Yes, I fully believe that adolescence is itself a struggle. Even the teens who seem to be the most well-adjusted kids in the world must have worries. Not to say that all struggles are the same, but I think it’s human nature that we all have some weakness, something that bothers us. Stress over grades, pressure to achieve goals, peer pressure from friends, bullying, cliques, societal expectations to fit in, the constant barrage from all types of media to be this or be that. At a time when teens are finally starting to develop their own identity, they are bombarded by demands to be what they should, could, need to be. I think all kids go through a struggle and the people around them need to be more respectful in allowing them to just be. As a parent I feel that forcing my children into pre-formed molds in the most dangerous thing to do to them. My job is to make them feel comfortable in their own skins, not force them into the ideal. They need equal amounts of guidance, acceptance, freedom and love.
“Cassie had everything: a family who loved her, friends, activities. Her mother wants to know why she threw it all away?”
Why? You want to know why?
Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.
Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to the whispers that curl into your head at night, calling you ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all “a disappointment.” Puke and starve and cut and drink because you don’t want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it’s too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can’t stop.
Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you.
“Why?” is the wrong question.
Ask, “Why not?”
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