Wintergirls Summary

Laurie Halse Anderson


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Wintergirls Summary

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is a novel about finding the desire to live despite emotional turmoil. The novel follows Lia Overbrook, an eighteen-year-old struggling with anorexia and self-mutilation. Lia hates her body. She hates her family. She hates her life. Her best friend, Cassie, is bulimic, and dies one night in a motel room. She had suffered a long night of binging and purging. She had called Lia thirty-three times seeking help, but Lia did not answer the phone. The novel opens with Lia learning of Cassie’s death.

After she receives this information, Lia goes back and listens to all of the voicemails Cassie left for her. The messages are desperate by the end, begging Lia to answer. Lia does not tell anyone about these messages because she is worried that if she does, she will lose control of her life. Anorexia and self-mutilation, she believes, give her control.

Lia has been to rehab and therapy before. She has been hospitalized twice. The stakes for her are high as she strives to hide the fact that she is dropping more and more weight. She does not want to go back to the mental hospital, but she keeps denying herself food and driving herself to exercise.

Her emotional background is rife with trouble. When she was younger, her parents got divorced. She harbors a lot of resentment for her parents because they sent her to the hospital, but there is one bright spot in her life, and that is her younger step sister, Emma. Emma is the eight-year-old daughter of Jennifer, Lia’s dad’s second wife. Despite the fact that Lia adores Emma, she still refuses to eat.

After Cassie dies, Lia begins to see her ghost. In the early appearances of this apparition, Lia learns that Cassie’s spirit has unfinished business with Lia; that is why she is subjected to this haunting. Naturally, Lia thinks Cassie’s unfinished business regards Lia’s failing to answer the phone the night Cassie died.

As time goes on, Cassie’s spirit appears more often to Lia, following her and talking to her. Cassie’s haunting is not about the missed phone calls. Rather, her spirit is waiting for Lia’s, expecting to cross over together. Lia hurts herself more, and as she loses control of her self-mutilation, Cassie’s spirit visits her more frequently. “Hurry up,” she says to Lia. Cassie’s spirit even goes so far as to call her fat and ugly, among other insults.

In an attempt to regain her tenuous control, Cassie eats less and exercises more. She cuts herself deeper and deeper. She goes to the motel where Cassie died, and passes out. She takes sleeping pills because even her dreams are interrupted by voices; because she weighs so little, the pills almost kill her. Cassie appears before her and tells her that she is proud of her, and that Lia’s death is a mere moment away.

Lia does not want to die. She feels as if she is being kicked inside her chest. She manages to escape Cassie’s spirit. After surviving this ordeal, Lia realizes that she has to seek treatment, not only for the physical harm she has caused herself, but also for the emotional trauma that prompted her self-harming actions. She enters the hospital of her own volition, and welcomes treatment because she now wants to live.

The title of the novel, Wintergirls, hints at the main theme in the novel–winter. Both Lia and Cassie exist between two worlds–that of the living and that of the dead. They are stuck there, frozen, unable to kickstart action in any one direction. Lia is finally able to move forward when she decides she wants to live, thus ending that frozen period.

Another major theme is control. Lia thinks that she exercises control by restricting her diet and cutting herself, but really, those actions, and the negative emotions that feed them, control her. She finally gains control at the end of the novel when she seeks treatment.

The theme of friendship is also woven into the story. Cassie and Lia have been friends since they were children, but when Cassie began purging in middle school, and Lia began lying to cover up her friend’s actions, their friendship changed. They stopped truly caring for one another and transitioned into enabling one another’s self-harm. When Lia fails to be there for Cassie in her last moments, this is a reflection of what their friendship has become. After Cassie has been haunting Lia for awhile, she tells Lia she is excited for Lia to cross over with her. No true friend would want her friend to die, so even after Cassie has perished, their friendship is as unhealthy as their relationships with themselves. Because they could not love themselves, they could not love others.

Laurie Halse Anderson is an award-winning novelist. Some of her other notable works include Speak and Fever 1793.