Skip to main content

Book 24 of 52: Wintergirls

I knew that one of my sorority sisters had a problem. She was rail thin, always drank too much on party nights, and never ate anything. But how could I point to her and say "something's wrong?" Maybe she really did have a high metabolism.

Then, one night when my roomates and I were getting ready to go out, she came over. Her pants were so baggy they were falling down, so another roommate offered to lend her a belt.

"Oh, I'd never fit in your belts. You're so much skinner than I am," she said. She probably weighed 95 pounds. My roommate weighed about 120.

What do you do? Could we force her to eat, force her to stare in the mirror and say "do you see how small you are?" My roommate tried, but it didn't work.

Wintergirls(pub date March 19) by Laurie Halse Anderson, shows why. It's a novel about Lia, an anorexic high school senior, whose best friend, Cassie, dies. Cassie was bulhemic, and the two supported each other on the quest to stay thin, and as Lia tries to move forward, is haunted by Cassie.

The book, which is written for young adults, is told from Lia's point of view, and her narrative is striking, shocking and sad. It shows how she explains herself out of eating, and how she got to the point where where 99 pounds at 5 feet 5 inches tall is far too heavy. (Don't believe that such an attitude can exist? Google "pro anorexia.")

I finished this book at about midnight last night, and dreamed about it. It's that powerful, and a must read, even if it's disturbing. Is it too much for young girls? I don't think so. I read worse in high school on a sheer disturbing level. It's marked "young adult" but not written in any sort of juvenile way, so adults won't feel out of place. I don't know if it will change someone's mind or help them on the road to recovery out of an eating disorder, but it might be a small step -- like the small steps Lia takes before she hits rock bottom.

Another recommendation: Caroline Knapp, whose books I recommended a lot, wrote a powerful book about her struggle with annorexia and women's relatinoship with body issue -- it's called Appetites: Why Women Want. Knapp uses her story and her journalism skills to write a researched picture of peril, one I know though never close to Lia or even Knapp's level. I had my boughts with issues in college and beyond, and when Lia talks about the power she finds in overcoming hunger, I knew what she (or Halse Anderson) meant. For a brief time in college, I lived on coffee, and a few years ago when trying to thin myself pretty for all the wrong reasons, I almost blacked out while running. And even though I see now how wrong that was, I still have pangs.

Take this morning, for example: I'm in week 7 of a 10 week training cycle for a race, and this morning called for an interval run, which I hate (seven sets of half mile sprints thrown into a 5.5 mile mix). I rocked that workout. I'm running faster and stronger than I ever had. After I wiped down the treadmill (I was covered in sweat), I went to stretch out and think about my run and the upcoming race but was sucked back into a dark hole because a rail thin teenage beauty who works out in her sports bra and booty shorts walked by. "It's not fair," I wanted to say. "I work so hard but will never be like you."

Is that look of protruding bones and hollow skin prettier than my muscular frame made strong by hundreds of miles pounded out over the last three years? If you ask me now, as I sit at home and write this, no. But I saw control in her at that moment, like I'd failed. I thought of the black tie I'm going to this weekend where I'll wear a shimmery gold dress and wonder if I'd look big compared to these stick thin girls. I pushed that thought from my head as I cooled down (if I was that thin, I wouldn't have this rack, I told myself, which made me laugh out loud), but it was still there, even if for a brief moment.

So while I've never been in Lia's spot, I can see how some girls start down that path and sink down -- that's why Wintergirls is such an important read.


Unknown said…
Very strong, very powerful writing Jen. i am not sure the book is for me, but I enjoyed your review.
Leslie said…
great review!
i cant wait to read it
Trish Ryan said…
I'm off to order this now--thanks for the candid review (and you're right, Caroline Knapp was SUCH an amazing writer!)

Popular posts from this blog

Welcome Back to Book a Week with Jen!

Hello hello! Yes, the rumors (that I started) are true. On New Year's Day, I fired up the old Book a Week with Jen blog, gave it a new domain, and I'm going to be writing about my reading habits once again. If you don't know me, my name is Jen A. Miller , and I'm a freelance writer and author. I've been freelancing now for 17 years, and in that time, have written hundreds of articles, three books ( two about the Jersey Shore and one about running ), and two ebooks ( both about freelance writing ). If you're not new around here, wow a lot has changed. I wrote a memoir , picked up a regular running column for the New York Times , and put that back down again. I ran a lot of marathons, and got into ultra marathoning, which lead me to run my first 24 hour race on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day 2020/2021 . My first dog, Emily, died in 2017 . I sold my first home, lived out of my car for a year traveling the country , scooped up a scruffy cattle dog mix in Ida

Book 5 of 52: Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen

I don't always try to match my reading to what I'm doing, but when I go to Florida, I try to pack at least one Florida weird book. There was no better novel to bring with me to read on a ferry from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park , than Carl Hiaasen's Stormy Weather . Hiaasen was writing about #floridaman before #floridaman was a thing (and when this - # - was the pound sign).  Stormy Weather is set in 1992 in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, which is still the most destructive hurricane to have ever hit Florida, and only one of four hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. still at Category 5 strength. According to the Miami Herald , Hurricane Andrew destroyed 63,000 homes and damaged another 101,241. Such disasters bring out the best in humanity but also the worst. F raud flowed into South Florida in Andrew's wake . That's where  Stormy Weather comes in. From an advertising executive who yanks his new wife away from their Walt Disney World honeymoon to r

Book 11 of 52: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

In my travels, I've accumulated photos in what I call the "Plants Where They Shouldn't Be" series. They're of weeds, flowers and trees growing in places that look uncomfortable: poking out of lava that's OK to walk on but warm enough to generate steam, growing around a mile marker on the road, sprouting on the back of a parking sign - that kind of thing. On the cheesy side, they're reminders that we can flourish in the most unlikely circumstances. On a more realistic end, they show that humans are constantly battling back nature, and that someday we'll probably lose the fight. I thought about those photos when I read  book 8 of 52 Station Eleven  (and watched  the HBO Max adaptation ), which show a world without 99.99 percent of our current human population. The story focuses on people, of course, but set them in a world where the things humans have created - electricity, internet, buildings, bridges, roads - are being taken back by nature. A Jersey Sh