Wintergirls Thawing

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

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Why? You want to know why?

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’s 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?”

Lia is fine. Just don’t look at her or she’ll disappear – at least, that’s what she wants you to think. However, it does not take long for readers to figure out that for Lia, self-perception is kind of a problem.

In her novel Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson tells the haunting story of Lia, a deeply depressed and dangerously anorexic girl tormented by the ghost of her ex-best friend Cassie. After Lia learns about Cassie’s dramatic and untimely death, her own depression, cutting, and eating issues spiral out of control. Desperately grasping at straws, the story follows her racing thoughts as she tries to piece together Cassie’s last hours and avoid the same fate…hopefully.

An intense and chilling story, Wintergirls speaks to a new generation of young women who struggle with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and pain. Written from the perspective of a profoundly disturbed young girl, it takes readers deep into the potentially unfamiliar territory of depression and cuts it open like a cadaver, raw to be examined. By exposing the online support systems that encourage eating disorders and stripping Lia’s thoughts bare, the novel paints a stark portrait of what reality looks like for many teenage girls.

While the nature of the topics could prove to polarize some audiences, those who connect with the text will connect deeply. Anderson brings up profound and serious questions, questions that are too quickly glossed over by most of society. Because of this, it may be difficult to teach in a classroom; students may find this book excessive or incredibly relatable, and teachers need to be ready to answer to both extremes. Regardless, the book is honest and holds a magnifying glass to the inner lives of hurting teenagers. Since adolescence is such a notoriously trying time, Wintergirls very well could end up as an integral part of any high school library.

Recommendations for Teachers

Wintergirls is the story of one girl's struggle to maintain hope in the face of despair, all while attempting to discover who she is and what she wants to be. Listed below are several activities that could help familiarize students with the tough themes and complex characters of the story. It is important that students look beyond Lia's severe eating disorder to see the underlying causes and its affect on the story as a whole. Encourage them to relate the topical imagery of her habits to the deeper thought processes involved in her decisions.
  • Research: Have your students break into small groups and research one of the tough aspects of the novel. Options include bulimia, anorexia, and self-mutilation. Ask them to return not only with statistics, but causal factors, underlying issues, and treatment options. They can discuss their findings within their groups to help them understand what Lia and Cassie are going through. This option might be most beneficial if utilized before the students begin reading the text so they can enter the book with a solid foundation.
  • Collage: An artistic option teachers can choose would be to ask them to make collages, whether from old magazines, clipart, or drawn by hand, representing a scene or character in the story. Lia's mind often seems cluttered, and chaotic, which would be expressed through the format of the collage. This exercise forces students to widen their understanding of a scene or character by considering the images that would represent them. Examples of scenes include the first night Lia sees Cassie's ghost, the day they decide to become the skinniest girls in school, or the final night Lia spends in Cassie's hotel room.
  • Rewrite a Scene: Asking students to rewrite a scene of the novel helps them express their understanding of the characters and themes. In this exercise, students can rewrite a scene to alter the story line. For example, what if Lia had answered the phone when Cassie called? After the assignment, have students convey how their new scene affects the story through a short writing assignment. Would anything change if the scene had been the way they wrote it? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
  • Dictionary Entry: Have your students create a dictionary entry for the word "wintergirls." Make sure their definition is detailed and explores their knowledge of the themes of the story. After the assignment, have the students discuss their definitions and the reasoning behind them for further exploration of themes and to help them gain experience in group discussions.
  • Discussion Questions: At the bottom of this page is a link to discussion questions for the novel. Many of these questions could spark conversation and debate. If students seem reluctant to discuss the themes, ask them some of these questions and encourage them to discuss the answers in detail. It will not only help them to demonstrate their understanding of themes and characters, it will also help students consider topics they may not have in their initial reading
  • Reading Journal: Because the subject matter of the book is so sensitive and intense, it may be wise to have students keep a reading journal as they go through the novel. This will allow the students to organize their own thoughts and feelings, and it will help teachers to notice if any students are having a particularly hard time with it, or if there are any issues that should be addressed to the class as a whole. Students may write about the ways in which they relate to Lia and Cassie and the ways they differ, any questions they have (whether about what is currently happening in the story, about the intentions behind the characters' actions, what-ifs, or anything they don't understand), and how they react to the novel. Check in occasionally and address any recurring topics in class discussions.

Wintergirls contains several examples of highly sensitive subject matter including eating disorders, depression, and self-mutilation. It may be necessary to send a letter home alerting parents to this fact or requesting permission. Considering how the highly sensitive nature of these topics, caution and discretion are necessary when discussing these topics. Short discussions or writing prompts on how these topics affect the characters will help students to become more comfortable with the ideas.

About Laurie Halse Anderson

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Laurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York. She began her career as a freelance reporter for newspapers and magazines breaking into the world of fiction with her first picture book Ndito Runs (1996). She has written fifteen picture books with many more in production, several of which made the New York Times bestsellers list. Her first novel entitled Speak (1999) was a National Book Award finalist, a New York Times bestseller, and a Printz Honor book. It was also adapted into a movie, and translated into 16 different languages. Halse followed Speak with four more young adult novels, Catalyst (2002), Prom (2005), Twisted (2007), and Wintergirls (2009). In the short time since Wintergirls was published it has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books among others. She has also published three historical fiction novels, Fever, 1793 (2000), and the first two books in her Seeds of America trilogy; Chains (2008) which won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and Forge (2010). She was awarded the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Catalyst, Fever 1793, and Speak. Many of her books have spent time on the New York Times bestsellers list, and have also been added to curriculums in middle and high schools across the United States.

Laurie Halse Anderson currently resides in northern New York with her husband, Scot, and their four daughters. She has many works in progress including several picture books, and the third book in her Seeds of America trilogy tentatively titled Ashes. More information on Laurie Halse Anderson can be found at Mad Woman in the Forest Anderson's official website.

Multimedia


The following videos are about Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls.
  • The first video is Anderson talking about her inspiration for her new novel and how she went about choosing the name.
  • The second video is a Q & A session with Laurie Halse Anderson about Wintergirls.
  • The next three videos are from Laurie Halse Anderson's tour with her newest novel Wintergirls at The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, UT.


Additional Resources:


-- YA! Review by Carly Crookston, Kristen Hayes, Samantha Phillips, and Anessa Johnson

Other Wiki Review:
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