Courtney Johnston's Reviews > Wintergirls

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
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Jun 29, 10

bookshelves: borrowed, fiction
Read in June, 2010

When I was maybe 11 or 12 - before leaving my primary school, which went through to Form 2, anyway - I bought a book from the school supplier about an anorexic girl.

I can't remember the title or the author or the cover, although I can remember phrases of it quite exactly. One of these described the girls' decision to adopt the name 'Kessa', rather than her own Francesca, because it was hard and controlled and tight, like her emerging body, not soft like her old body.

I also remember becoming quite obsessed with the book. My mother had trouble talking to me about stuff, even at that age - I do remember her once asking me, with great discomfort, if a book I was reading about a kid whose parents were getting divorced had anything to do with what was going on at home - but I'm surprised this obsession didn't start her thinking. Then again, maybe it did - my one attempt ever to diet was undo by icecream before the end of the first day.

So, Laurie Halse Anderson's 'Wintergirls' is also a book about an anorexic girl written for teenagers. It has a slightly more supernatural tone than the book of my childhood - Lia, the central character, is haunted by hallucinations of her friend Cassie, who dies just before the book starts, rupturing her oesophagus in a vodka-fuelled binge-purge bout.

What the two books share though is the compulsive, obsessive tone. Calories are counted, counted, counted. There's something almost poetic about it - certainly tonal. When my dad came out of his coma, he counted up and down to 10 over and over and over - apparently it's an action of the brain trying to reset. There's something I find both terrifying and seductive about this extreme focus and control, which if it was applied to competitive sport we'd find praiseworthy, but when it's applied to a girl's body I find extraordinarily distressing.

I genuinely wonder how I'd cope if my own child read books like this. Cutting, binging, starving - they're such scary concepts, and I'm so relieved they passed me by.

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