Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #54: Wintergirls

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #54: WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Viking Juvenile on March 19, 2009
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 278
Format: Hardcover
Source: Won
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“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 are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

In my history as a reader, there have been a handful of books that I really don’t know how to rate. Now, this happens a lot, but it’s usually a problem caused by the variation between my emotional opinion and my more objective one. With this special handful, though, objectively, I know the book is brilliant. Positively, feels-destroyingly brilliant. However, my emotions are at once loathing and loving, in a way that’s hard to really organize or understand.

One of the other books that gave me this feeling was another Laurie Halse Anderson novel, Speak. Both of these books ripped me up inside. They hurt almost physically. They’re visceral and unpleasant and eye-opening. In a lot of ways, I hated reading them. At the same time, though, I’m so impressed by the strength of the sensations that Anderson can elicit in her fiction and I know that this intense discomfort I’m feeling is something she’s created and that she’s teaching me and expanding my understanding.

Laurie Halse Anderson is, without a doubt, one of my favorite authors, even if I did somewhat hate the experience of reading two of her books. I’ve read four and each one had such a unique narrative voice. Some authors have essentially the same sort of characters over and over, but, for all that Anderson’s MCs (at least in the ones I’ve read) are white females, they’re quite disparate. The first person perspective of Lia in Wintergirls particularly stands out. The narrative is frenetic, jumbled, nonsensical, messy, and rambling. It takes some time to adjust to, but, once you get there, the writing is such a beautiful chaos of pain, loneliness and little bits of hope.

Going into it, I thought Wintergirls was a novel about a girl with an eating disorder, which it is, but it’s also much more than that. Lia’s mental problems extend further than anorexia, which is a symptom of larger issues. What’s fascinating and intensely painful is the odd mixture of self-awareness and complete lack of self-knowledge Lia’s mental processes exhibit. She knows that she’s in a danger zone weight wise, that she’s hurt people before because of her poor nutrition, and that she craves food, but at the same time she still truly believes herself to be disgusting and fat even as she stares at her protruding ribs. Being in her head is, I repeat, intensely unsettling and eye-opening.

At the novel’s start, Lia has been released from treatment for the second time. She’s living with her father and stepmother, having finally escaped from her Mom Dr. Marrigan. Immediately her goal is to slough off all the weight she was forced to gain in order to get out of the hospital. The death of her best friend, Cassie, accelerates this unhealthy backslide. Cassie and Lia both had eating disorders and encouraged one another in their behavior. Honestly, I’m not really sure what to make of the relationship between Cassie and Lia, except the way that friendship can actually be really unhealthy for you no matter how much you love each other, much like a romantic relationship can be.

Because Laurie Halse Anderson doesn’t write garden variety YA, Wintergirls isn’t about romance. Lia isn’t fixed by the love of a hot boy. The only one who can fix Lia is Lia, even though her parents and her psychologist are trying to help her as much as they can. Though I feel like the parents were a bit unobservant, they were trying, which automatically qualifies them for a good parenting award in YA fiction.

I don’t even know what to say about this book, other than that it hurt my brain and that you should read it, if only to admire how talented Laurie Halse Anderson is. This goes on the list of books I’ll need to reread at least once and maybe multiple times to really fathom.

Favorite Quote:

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


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14 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #54: Wintergirls”

  1. Lesley says:

    Interesting review – I can’t remember the last time I love-loathed a book, so I’m a little jealous! I’ve never read any of Anderson’s books, but I keep hearing good things about them and have been thinking about trying them. The thing is, her writing is always described as lyrical, a word my brain converts to written-in-verse, which I hate, so I’ve always stayed away. But I think this review has convinced me to give them a go, so thank you.
    Lesley recently posted…BAD GIRLS DON’T DIEMy Profile

  2. Nori says:

    I never really know what to think about Anderson. I first read Speak when I was in middle school, and I remember being so beyond moved by it. I used to refer to it as one of my favorites, but when I re-read it in grad school, it kind of lost all of its magic for me. There’s some books I can re-read throughout life and they will always be good, and then there’s some books that I read at the right moments, and those moments don’t repeat. I’m not necessarily saying one type is better than the other cause I like having both. But, I definitely feel like Anderson’s books aren’t the most re-readable. I still need to read Winter Girls. I own an ARC of it from a long time ago, but I keep pushing it aside. I guess I’m waiting for the right moment.
    Nori recently posted…A Good Week in Books (67)My Profile

  3. Totally agree about Wintergirls! Sometimes I had to put the book down because it was just so dark and uncomfortable, but at the same time it was still so emotional and heartfelt. I also liked how Lia’s mentality dealt with more than just her eating disorder, like you said. I personally kind of identified with her because as a teenager it feels like however you look at yourself, you always see an imperfection or that extra layer of fat that’s not really there, but definitely not to the extent that Lia experienced it. This book was so scarily eye-opening and disturbing at the same time. Fantastic review, Christina! <33
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Life of a Blogger (2): Music GenresMy Profile

  4. Heather says:

    Books that make you think and thoroughly transport you into someone else’s shoes really are the best, even if they can be super uncomfortable at times. I read this a few years ago, and I still remember all of the emotions it brought up. Laurie Halse Anderson is so great at drawing realistic characters, and it was physically painful for me to read this. In my opinion, she really did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of someone who has an eating disorder. This is such a wonderful, but heartbreaking, book!

  5. I think I read this one many years ago, but I don’t remember it too well. I think I might want to read it again. I don’t know if I was really ready for Anderson’s books when I was younger, and I think I might be now. Great review!
    P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex recently posted…The Weekly Progress: To The Edge of Insanity and BackMy Profile

  6. Kelly says:

    I read this when I was quite a bit younger, and I don’t remember being emotionally affected by it…at all. The same can be said about my reading experience with Speak; I remember enjoying the book, but not knowing what all the hype was about.

    I think a re-read is required.
    Kelly recently posted…Book Review: Pivot PointMy Profile

  7. Yessssssssssssss. I am pleased! I’m sad you didn’t see this is a trillion times better than The Impossible Knife of Memory and creepy Finn, but you recognized this novel’s painful beauty and this makes me happy. It’s still one of my favorite novels and I’m glad it was the first I ever reviewed even though that review was awful.

    • Christina Franke says:

      Finn is so non-creepy. I don’t understand where you guys are coming from at all on that. The unexpected date COULD have been creepy, but it was in a public place and she took herself, so she was always in complete control. I thought it was adorable. You just hate it because of some obscure JG connection.


      • Christina Franke says:

        Oh right, I forgot about Wintergirls. I have feels.

        I really liked this book, but I felt like it was missing some back story to really make me relate to the heroine. I’d especially like to know what the original parent and friend dynamics were. It’s hard for me to know if her parents are terrible people or good ones. There were a lot of questions, and I’m not certain they were all the good, thought-provoking sort. Though maybe it was intentional. I don’t know.


        Imma steal a line from the Book Smugglers’ review of Knife because it puts into better words how it came across to me:

        “I thought the beginning of their romance to be extremely problematic in the way that it romanticised Finn’s creepy behaviour. We are talking about a charming guy who – led by the best of intentions – basically stalked Hayley until she capitulates. At one point, he sent her to a football game to write an article for the school’s newspaper only to show up there to say they were actually on date. There is no inviting, no asking, just assuming she’d be ok with this.”


        RIVER IS INTRIGUING, NOT ROMANTIC. I’d run like hell from him. It’s gonna be fun when I read Between the Spark and the Burn whether I get an ARC or have to buy a hardcover when it’s out. Perhaps I will change my mind and throw my lot in with you. Perhaps now.

        • Christina Franke says:

          I don’t think that one surprise date = stalking. I really don’t. A creeper would lure her to a non-public place. Also, I think the first thing he said when she arrived and he said it was a date was that she was free to leave. He was adorkable to me with his math puns. We will have to agree to disagree on this. Or just yell nonsensical things across the internet. I’ll pull out Gillian and you can have The Book Smugglers; I don’t typically agree with them anyway.

  8. Jenni says:

    Hmm.. I like that this one is so much more than just a book about a girl with an eating disorder. It makes me nervous that your reading experience with it was much the same as it was with Speak because that one ended up not doing much for me. I don’t think I will be rushing to read this one..
    Jenni recently posted…Review: Alienated by Melissa LandersMy Profile

  9. Wintergirls is the second book I’ve read by Anderson and I remember thinking a lot of the same things you expressed here. It is a difficult book to read. It’s sad and disturbing and difficult to understand. But it’s definitely a story worth reading. I actually started listening to this via audiobook and was so confused because obviously I was missing how Anderson plays with her writing in this one. It’s definitely better to read it!
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted…Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan SpoonerMy Profile

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