Debates about WINTERGIRLS and camera in my face

My face still hurts… for so many reasons.

School Library Journal sent a photographer to our house yesterday to take a picture of me that will run (July, I think) with an article about the Margaret A. Edwards Award. It’s going to be the cover photo, so there were specific demands of the picture in terms of surrounding space for text, etc. There was also a request to try and get the picture in a natural setting, possibly because of the tree themes in Speak, and the amount of time I spend gardening, etc.

The photographer was a super nice guy from Syracuse. He took pics of me in our Forest, on the stone wall behind the garden, in the house, and by the Magic Window in the cottage. Queen Louise developed a new job skill; she had to hold the whatsit that softened the light. Now she is officially a Grip. And she has a grip on life. Many bad puns were made while the guy shot – I kid you not – hundreds and hundreds of pictures. Here’s hoping that one of them turned out OK.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Me standing on the wall. Do I look like a target for haters? Keep reading.

In other news, a small firestorm about WINTERGIRLS is raging over on the New York Times website, on the Well, a discussion section. The question posed was “In writing about eating disorders, are authors, unwittingly, creating an alluring guidebook to the disease?”

The debate is fascinating; take a peek.

Some of the comments were very painful for me to read, like the one that accused me of writing “anorexic porn.” The debate seems to be boiling down to a question that pertains to many YA novels: Will our children act in a dangerous manner if they read about dangerous behaviors in books?

And then the good people at the Jezebel blog joined the fray, with a blog entry called “Are Teen Girls Really That Fragile?” Plenty of response to that question, too!

What do you think about all of this?

65 Replies to “Debates about WINTERGIRLS and camera in my face”

  1. I will admit that when I finished the book, I found myself thinking, “Should I really give it to X girl? She probably hasn’t thought of sewing quarters into her pockets herself, yet.” Then I realized that the mental “yet” I was adding meant that she would find “thinspiration” anywhere she damn well pleased and my giving her a lovely, challenging book might help more than letting her continue to just read pro-ana websites.

    Parents and teachers should know their children and what their children are reading, but stopping them from reading excellent fiction is dangerous. It validates that underground nature of the disorder. Talking to them about their very real problems is helpful, and this book could give families and classrooms an excellent opening. It’s very difficult for a person who does not have an eating disorder to understand the mental games that people with disordered eating play, and this book opens that door.

    After I finished my ARC, I took it to one of our school counselors and lent it to her. We both agreed that this would be a good tool to open discussion. Shielding our children is not the answer. Knowing them and reading with them can be.

  2. Unless you’re predisposed to a behavior, I don’t think reading about something dangerous will push you in that direction. But if there’s noting written about a dangerous behavior simply because someone somewhere might take it and run with it, then how will anyone else understand that behavior? Isn’t that what novels are for- putting us in someone else’s place so we can understand where they come from? It seems more dangerous to me to keep the information hidden, forbidden. That just makes it all the more attractive, and dangerous.

    I can understand wanting to protect people you love & as I was reading “Wintergirls” I did wonder if it would be a trigger for some people. But to not write about the topic at all is a disservice to everyone else. Every health class I ever took in middle/high school discussed anorexia and bulimia, and none of them had the effect on me that reading “Wintergirls” did. I get it now. Not so much as if I’d actually gone through it, but enough to understand better that it isn’t just something someone can stop if they’re caught enough times. So for that, and all your other fabulous books, I thank you.

  3. Why are people offended by a book that tells the truth? Why aren’t these snide reporters ripping elle and vogue and teen off the shelves instead of coming at you?

    I loved Wintergirls. I read it twice straight through. One of the things I walked away with was how very cold Lia was all of the time. For that reason alone I wouldn’t want an ED, but your other descriptions, I think, were realistic and gritty and did not romanticize ED at all. If anything, I’d think Wintergirls would force girls to take a hard look at EDs (theirs or those of others) and consider it carefully. I don’t think this is a “trigger” book at all. (One has only to read the bathroom scene at the end to be convinced of that.)

    I hate it when someone reveals an issue and then is pointed to as “the problem”. It’s so frustrating.

  4. As my best friend is annorexic, I am more afraid of reading it to see the horror because I know how “accurate” Speak was for me and how powerful. I skimmed WGirls of course, but I dont think I’m ready to read it yet. But it could also be a way to talk with her, to start a convo….

    I think everything can be taken the “wrong” as well as “right” ways. Can’t please everyone…

  5. I think it’s dangerous NOT to talk to young adults about anorexia. If we censor their reading material, they are going to try even harder to get their hands on it. It’s better to present them with the truth and have a healthy discussion about it than hiding it from them. Teens are much stronger and resilient than we think they are.

  6. 2 cents’ worth, maybe more?

    As a reader and a former teen and the parent of one teen and grandparent of three teens (no wonder I am tired), I can tell you that reading about something does not mean license to do what a character might do. Otherwise, I would be living a gothic romance or be a wizard or a druggie or dead or….

    I read all of the comments are am stunned to see people who have not even read the book offering opinions on said book. That, my dear, is censorship plain and simple.

    I hope adults who work with kids with ED will read and then decide whether to share on a case by case basis. I also think teens know the difference between fiction and real life. My teens have read all manner of books and I trust they can separate reality from fiction. So can I, even when the fiction is frighteningly real.

  7. Laurie, Haven’t had time to read all the comments, but wanted to chime in. I loved your book. I was blown away by your book. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and how it would feel, as a teen, to read it. It was hard for me to imagine, because we didn’t have books like this when I was a teen, not FOR teens–and at this age, I was deep into fairies and unicorns, anyway, so I never did have this kind of reading experience when I was young. Also, I was very sheltered & the things that your characters go through was just not in my world. I know it was there, I probably knew it then, but I couldn’t have pointed to a single person going through anything like it. I wouldn’t have known where to start.

    As an adult and a mother, it was incredibly painful to read, but amazing BECAUSE of that. You told such an amazing story, building it up out of all the research I know you did, that I couldn’t put it down. I read your book for the writing and because I do now know how real your subject is and it would have been a disservice and insult to the girls/women who go through this to shy away from the pain they live with.

    I don’t believe you’re teaching girls to try anything. The word “alluring” in that quote just sticks in my throat–there is NOTHING alluring about what you showed us. Nothing. I know that, sadly, there are girls who will read your story and identify with the characters. It may be the first glimpse for them of anyone who actually understands the whys and hows of their feelings and actions. You show them the truth, I think–of the possibility of these actions ending horribly and the possibility of their being able to change their path.

    I’m not saying this well. I wondered as I was reading about the daughters of friends of mine (I have a son, and I don’t think he’d choose to read WG) who might read this book. What would I think if I saw them holding it, would I worry about them? Would I think it was too much? And I came up with the same answer I always do about direct, honest difficult books. I’d suggest to the mother that they read the book, too, that they watch their child for unhappiness or uncomfortableness and take any opportunity to discuss the book and this world with their daughters. I don’t think I’d ever suggest the girl not read your book. What if, what if there was one chance that a girl living this life would read your book and see the reason to change, to talk to someone, to get help? I think that’s much more likely than the oppositie, and I think to take away that chance would be wrong.

    Whew. Of course that went on longer than I thought. But there is a reason “we” don’t ban books, and it’s not just about the author.

  8. Honestly, this is like asking if writing books about self-injury makes people cut. Yes, books CAN trigger people (I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count with self-injury among my friends), but they can also help others understand the issue more fully. Censorship only makes such issues more difficult to speak about in a public setting.

    A tidbit from my own personal experience:
    When I was in middle school, probably fourth or fifth grade, I tried to assert control over my life where I could (it happened to be leaving a mess in my room to counteract the rule of an over-controlling mother). BOTH of my parents worried that this thirst to have some shred of control would manifest itself into an eating disorder.
    During Junior High, I had to be careful if I read books about eating disorders because my parents thought they were dangerous for me to read.
    Fast forward to the end of freshman year of high school, when I was fourteen and admittedly pudgy. On the way to a cousin’s graduation in another state, my mother decided it was a great idea to lecture me for two-and-a-half hours about how I needed to go on a diet that summer.
    I ask you this: Which was more dangerous to my young mind, books which outlined disorders and their consequences or being told flat-out that I was fat and needed to spend the summer dieting?

  9. Wintergirls does not glamorize a disease. It does poeticize it. There’s an enormous difference. Within the framework of the narrative, which does not spare the harsh realities of the situation, an anorexic could find a dark mirror for herself – from my own brushes with disordered eating, I recognized thought patterns. The story, however, doesn’t allow you to ignore what this does to Lia’s life – her family, her education, her friends. The bathroom scene made my stomach twist.

    I admit I’m surprised by the number of comments on the NYTimes blog claiming that I never thought of binging/purging/restricting until I saw it in a magazine/on tv/someone told me about it. When you’re a little girl, and someone tells you you’re fat, and you see all the thin girls being told they’re pretty – not eating or throwing up what you eat seem obvious solutions. None of the eating disordered people I know ‘got the idea’ from somewhere. I’m sure it does happen, but it seems to point the finger of blame too easily. Wintergirls could potentially be triggering, but undoubtedly it is illuminating, and illumination is what we need.

  10. I have to admit to not purchasing this book because I was afraid it would trigger something for me. I skimmed it several times at Borders on a few different trips there. The writing looked lovely, but I’ve been that girl, and I don’t think I’d be able to handle reading it without regressing.
    That said, I agree with the commenter who wrote, “Because the book shows the horror of the disorder, it may propel these young friends to awareness and perhaps even motivate them to help a friend.”
    Without friends who were able to understand what I was going through, I don’t know that I would have been able to work my way out of the bulimia and my obsession with losing weight. A book like this is exactly what my high school friends would have appreciated.
    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to read it. I think it’s an important issue, and this book has the potential to help a lot of people. Kudos to you, because I’ve heard that it was done very well.

  11. Craziness

    This debate is rediculous. Reading about something will not make something more likely to do it. The people who do bad things, like develop eating disorders, will do bad things whether or not they read about it. Books about war do not cause wars. Books about suicide do not cause suicide. Go Ask Alice does not make people want to do drugs. Anyone who suggests otherwise is obviously crazy, stupid, or blinded by an unrealistic religion.

  12. Laurie, I tend to think it’s a a good idea to avoid reading the comments on any New York Times article that relates to you personally. Some of the comments can be great, of course, but too many are vicious or idiotic or both, and it sounds like you got more than your share this time.

    I haven’t read “Wintergirls” yet, but based on my (limited) understanding of how anorexia works, it seems probable that it will act as a trigger for some girls. But I don’t think identifying it as a potential trigger is the same as calling for its censorship. It’s not as if, if you hadn’t written it, the world would suddenly be trigger-free.

    I’m sure that you considered this issue before the book was published. What’s your take on the “trigger” phenomenon?

  13. Kida are smarter than that. The ones who will act in dangerous ways were going to do it anyway. And you have to know that you will touch some young hearts and help them find a way out of the madness.

  14. What I think

    First and foremost, you look lithe and wild and wonderful on the wall. So there’s that.

    Secondly, I think that popular magazines are more dangerous than books that tackle issues head-on. Identifying with an anorexic character makes you want for the character to get better; it doesn’t make you want to become anorexic. The messages in the ads (remember in particular the super-skinny heroin-chic ads of yesteryear) that say that beauty is skin deep and requires one to be skinny are far more alluring to teens, I think. And as someone who was an 88 lb. teenager once upon a time (yes, I did it on purpose, and it took years to get over it), I think I’d have liked a book that allowed me to see myself – it would have been, for me, a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment for me. (My real-life grace moment came from an episode of 20/20. I think it saved my life.)

  15. From the perspective of someone who has taught thousands of teens, a large percentage of them with problems: Stories do have an impact on readers, which is why we tell stories. Sadly, there may be readers who see Wintergirls as a reinforcer for their disease. Teens who have altered brain chemistry will often glom to works of literature, music, movies, and YouTube videos that somehow support their behavior. HOWEVER, and I can’t caps lock that enough, there are thousands more–tens of thousands more–who don’t know the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia and wouldn’t be able to recognize them in a friend or loved one. Since reading the book, my daughters, my wife, and I are far more aware of the body image culture that exists. Simply put, education is the first step to understanding. Why would anyone want to deny educating people about this terrible disease?

    PS. “anorexic porn” my ass.

  16. I could not have phrased that better. Children are inherently strong and able. This false need to “protect” them by not letting them see what’s bad in the world – particularly when it’s presented in a way that helps them handle such things — is a crime in itself.

    My son routinely startles people with what he knows,understands or has inferred. He just turned twelve. We’ve always answered his questions, as fully as his development will allow. Rare is the time I say, “I don’t think I can explain that well enough for you yet.”

  17. Post #23 on the discussion, from Jesse:

    “Hiding things doesn’t keep kids from them, it just gives other sources more authority. What’s scarier than that?”

    Yeah, all the things my (wonderful) mother (whom I love) tried to shield me from in order to keep me safe? I found them on my own. And those are the kinds of things I have the most trouble talking to her about.

  18. Laurie, I LOVED Wintergirls. I was blown away. And Lia haunted me for days after I read it. Then I read it again.

    As a person who has struggled with eating, some parts of the book could have been triggering for me. I found myself rooting for Lia even though I knew I shouldn’t because she was essentially killing herself. I found myself admiring her strength. But then I’d keep reading, and watching as she fell further and further into the pit, I realized I wanted her to get better. I rooted for her. I wanted her to eat. Just eat, and enjoy food. And that helped me realize that this is not a joke. Any triggers that may have set something off in me were negated as I continued to read, as I continued to live Lia’s struggle through your words.

    I don’t think your book is a “manual” or that it is glorifying anorexia. It’s a real, raw look at the disorder. The book needs to be out there, not hidden away.

  19. Just finished reading WINTERGIRLS and I loved it, but I found myself thinking it might be a more effective read for parents and loved ones of a person with an eating disorder. When I was a young dancer, I flirted with an eating disorder and actually used the book THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD as a guide on how to do it. I actually felt sort of like I was in competition with the main character – I was going to do anorexia better than her!! I’m not sure how I managed to pull myself out of the abyss, but I never developed a full-blown problem. Now, however, I’m a mom and terrified that something like this could happen to one of my daughters. I have seen how maddening the illness is, and how hard it can be for loved ones to understand. Perhaps your book could help them understand a little better what’s going on the mind of an anorexic girl and, perhaps, help her a little more effectively…

  20. Wow. I came here in a huff, ready to spew forth my rage, but you said it all, right there, very eloquently. The more information we have out there about ALL sides of an issue, the more informed we will be in our choices. If there were no books on anorexia, maybe it would sound like an excellent idea to me because I’d have no idea what side effects would come of it.

  21. I think people will blame anyone and anything just so that they don’t have to blame themselves. All those non-fiction books that talk about anorexia and bulimia should be taken off the shelves as well? Should all the books that talk about the sexualization of American teenagers and children be pulled off the shelves? Book inform those who have never experienced to can’t understand what someone else is going through. Those who stated in the comments that they were influenced by an article or book were already problematic, and misused the information. Also it just tells me that they are trying to blame someone else for their own problems. Which, again, is a problem when it comes to facing anorexia and bulimia. If you can’t blame yourself you need to blame that book, that friend, that article, that t.v. show. Whatever you can as long as it isn’t you.

  22. It seems to me that when I read people worrying about what a book might “make” someone do or “lead to” someone doing, there’s usually an unspoken “someone less intelligent/strong/discerning than myself.” Especially when the “someone” is a teenager or a kid.

    This seems very shady to me. I think I’d listen much more carefully to the people who have read the book and are talking about how it affected them, themselves. Or those who thoughtfully decided it’s not for them right now. I see in this discussion many people who are choosing to read it or not read it, but definitely able and active in taking care of themselves. Teenagers and adults both.

    I finished the book last weekend and liked it a lot. (I’m an adult with no ED history.)

  23. I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but my first reaction to all the fuss is ??????? As YA authors, are we meant to write novels only about healthy, well-balanced teens with no mental illness, no issues, no struggles? That would make for a pretty boring stack of (unread) books.

    I wrote about my own eating disorder in an anthology years ago and I still get e-mail from girls (and boys, too, actually) who are in the throes of one. I’ve talked about eating disorders in classrooms. I think the more they are discussed, the healthier it is. Period. Pretending they don’t exist by not writing about them is almost comically naive: no one is going to GET an eating disorder from reading your book. They aren’t contagious. Certainly people who already have eating disorders are going to read them because like all people who read anything, they are looking for information about themselves — seeking similar experiences to illuminate their own.

    (The first thing I thought of when I heard there was this brewing debate was all the books lately that have been written on the subject of high school shootings. Are these written off as “handbooks” for future shooters?)

    I think as novelists, we are responsible only to tell the truth as our characters see it, regardless of what we’re writing about.

  24. Wintergirls is the most outstanding book I’ve read in years. The story empathized with every person who has experienced disordered eating behaviors. It did NOT glamorize or encourage anorexic tendencies in any way. Our job is to write about teens’ problems by speaking to them in an honest, direct manner. We reach out to them so that they feel less alone. If a book can make a reader feel like there is hope for finding solutions to their problems, then it has enhanced their quality of life. Wintergirls successfully illustrates the horror of this disease. If a reader finds anorexic behaviors and manifestations alluring, that person’s imbalance will inevitably be triggered elsewhere.

  25. People will slag off anything, if if it’s good. The media debate and write all sorts of crap just to stay in their jobs. Don’t be put off it, hun.

  26. I didn’t read the debates, I’m not surprised by them at all. The same thoughts went through my head as I read WINTERGIRLS. But I stand by what I told you at Changing Hands in AZ. This book is important and it will save lives. People are concerned because the voice in the book is painfully authentic. And it’s a scary subject, damn terrifying in fact. But it’s here and it’s real and anyone who wants to see “anorexic porn” has nothing more to do than google or visit the unfathomable groups on LJ. The difference is you take us through it and show us the door out. My hope is that instead of doing that to their own bodies, girls (and guys too) will experience WINTERGIRLS and then find their way to their own door faster. That’s how it will save lives; it’s a guide map to the door of healing.

  27. I think that it’s like the old argument that kids learn violence from video games. But really, this only happens to VERY SELECT kids. Parents have to teach them certain values and things. I played violent video games, I’ve read books like this one, one where people are on heavy drugs, etc, etc. Nothing has ever influenced me to do anything. Like, really, nobody will do anything they didn’t want to do in the first place. And it’s only if the people are insecure and haven’t been taught things well by their parents (or they just ignored them). Don’t worry about it. You did nothing wrong.

    Books like this, are educational. They open your eyes to how things really are. People who are struggling with anorexia and bulimia already know how this is. They know the secrets so this being a guidebook is ridiculous. I just think books like this need to be published so ignorant people learn more about the way people with these diseases’ minds work. Don’t even worry about this.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Your work is brilliant.

  28. The book is amazing

    Hey Laurie,

    The book is amazing. As writers, we must reflect back the truth of our world. Literature provides a forum for discussion around issues that may be too painful to discuss in a one-on-one setting between a parent/child or teacher/child. WINTERGIRLS was breathtaking — and I think you’re getting the kinds of comments on the NY Times site because the voice is so authentic and moving, and as we read, we watch her self-destruction and we ache for her. The book makes us feel. What more can any piece of art ask?

    My step-daughter’s friends are cutting. (She’s 15). Teens are doing, thinking, feeling, fearing all kinds of things. Stories can help process and make sense of them all. Your responsibility, I feel, as a novelist, is to tell an authentic story. You’re not responsible for how a reader receives that work. The loyalty is to the work.

    Thanks so much for all your groundbreaking work in YA literature.

    Laraine Herring

  29. I saw this book in the store the other day. I picked it up. I almost bought it. But then I put it down again because while at university, I gained 10 pounds. I’m mostly recovered from my past eating disorder, but I don’t need anything now that will tip the balance.

    However, I don’t think a book would inspire me to engage in unhealthy behaviours unless I was already considering them. And I would find a way to engage in said behaviours regardless of what literature was or was not available. While some individuals might choose to use your novel for the wrong reasons, that does not make it a bad novel or a harmful novel or anything else along the same lines. Those same people would find other ways to hurt themselves. I did.

    Understanding the thought process of disordered eating can only help individuals understand the proper way of dealing with those suffering. Perhaps if those around me had read it, they could have avoided some of their harmful responses. Not that I blame them for my choices, but at times, their comments deeply hurt me.

    I do suggest, for those in recovery, or even not, reading “Eating in the Light of the Moon” by Anita Johnston. If you’ve ever had problematic eating, even if it wasn’t an eating disorder, whether it was binging, purging, or starvation, it’s an excellent read. I know it helped me tremendously.

    One day, I hope to read Wintergirls. That day is just not today.

  30. Actually on a kind of similar subject (presenting (potentially dangerous…) fiction to kids) I watch what I consider) a great show on AMC channel called Breaking Bad which is about a high school chemestry teacher who gets cancer and in a desperate attempt to leave his family some kind of nest egg after he dies, hooks up with a student of his ( !!! ) and together they cook and distribute meth.

    Now, sure, AMC could be seen as promoting the sale of meth.

    But, people out there doing this kind of thing would continue doing it wether there was a tv show or not.

    But I should think that THANKS to the Tv show, maybe a dialogue can be (and has been) opened between students and……
    other friends…..ABOUT the dangers of meth and the damage it causes not only to the seller and user, but their circle of family and friends as well.

    So in a way, maybe the TV show can help a certain amount of people who may not have been helped before the show even went on the air.

    I should think that maybe your novel has opened up several
    similar helpful dialogues.
    Frank Zubek

  31. I haven’t read Wintergirls yet. However, I agree with what someone else said (I forget who) that this book seems more appropriate for family/friends of someone suffering with an ED. It is very hard for most people to understand any type of mental illness which can make it difficult to be supportive of a loved one’s recovery.

  32. I’d just like to add my voice to the “Yes, because not talking about something is so much better and will make it go away” crowd. I can’t say anything better than what’s been said here. And I’m pretty surprised after reading that discussion. It’s fascinating, alright. And not in the “Wow the Nothern Lights are fascinating” kinda way. While I respect people’s right to say and believe what they want, the naivete of some people is beyond jarring.

    Apparently YA authors should write about kittens. And fluffy clouds.

    Oh wait — kittens could scratch. Better not write about them.

  33. The people that make the bad comments are the ones that do not actually read the books. They just hear what the books are about and make a judgment. I think the subjects you write about need to be written and not made pretty and that’s what you do and that’s why they make a difference in peoples life for the good. Life has ups and downs and if we don’t teach our children about both they will make destructive decisions. Keep up the great work. You make a difference.

    Hey, look on the bright side a lot of people will buy the book just to see if what was said is true and then you will have a bigger fan base.

  34. I’ll have to go read the NYT debate…I listened to you on the podcast last night on my way home from work. Great interview. It seemed like in the interview this very topic was brought up in terms of the concerns of this book being a potential “trigger” for kids susceptible to these disorders…and the response was that truly society as a whole is a trigger and that your book is actually taking a very responsible stance by showing the stark and awful reality of the world of eating disorders and the pain and suffering involved. While I suspect critics will say that teens will gloss over the pitfalls you show and just look at your book as a handbook, I would respond by saying that I think there are far more damaging bits of media out there in the world that aren’t responsible enough to show the negative side of the lifestyles they portray. I would also be curious to know just how many of the people negatively critiquing your work as an anorexic’s handbook have actually READ your book…as well as how many of them actually have any true insight into the world of eating disorders. Most of the time I see debates like these, they are lead by outspoken alarmists who don’t have the full story (or any of the story) and are being over protective in elements where extra protection isn’t required.

    I applaud your writing and I look forward to reading this book.

    Thank you.

  35. As a teenager I think it is worse if no one talks about the issues. You are not protecting children through censorship.

    Eating Disorders are a fact of life in high school. Your book isn’t the worse place for teens to be exposed to the issue. Im sorry but the internet is a bad plce to go searching for information about eating disorders. What people don’t need is to find the pro sites.

    On another note, Melinda cuts at one point. You could make the same claim about speak. In 1999 when the book came out none of the media hype about self harm happen yet.

  36. OK, now that I’ve read through some of the comments, I feel a little better informed and can see where they are coming from…that someone “at risk” is already by definition not in the right frame of mind and thus may not fully appreciate (or even care about) the negative implications shown in the book.

    However, this novel (as well as Speak and your other books), is not something meant to be read in isolation and left alone. This book is a means for creating dialogue between parent/teacher/friend/etc and someone who is at risk or already over the edge. As was mentioned in the debate, the answer cannot be to remove all potential triggers because unfortunately, nearly everything can be a trigger (and many “at risk” girls are seeking out triggers). Instead, there needs to be responsible triggers such as Wintergirls that provide a way for information to be shared and for those caught in the cycle to find a way out.

  37. Tenns take risks. Sometimes they take them on purpose, drinking and driving on Saturday nights, because it makes them feel cool. Sometimes, as in anorexia or cutting, they act dangerously because they feel for all kinds of complicated reasons that this is the only way they can control their lives.

    And you know what? Teens were doing these things back when we were teens ourselves. We just didn’t make it public.

    My feeling is that reading about dangerous behavior does two things–it helps those who don’t engage in it, but who see it around them, gain some sense of what may be going on and it gives those who engage in the dangerous behavior a sense that they are not alone.

    Giving kids who are in difficulties of any kind a sense that they aren’t the only ones may be the best thing that we, as writers, can do.

  38. Sounds interesting! I used Speak with my 9th graders back in March…..trying to figure out how to use it more effectively next year (I have struggling readers so it’s difficult to keep them interested…..) b/c I think it’s a great book for them to read! Keep it up!

    (Oh, and hi! I just added you last week…..been trolling, figured it was time to say hello)

  39. Depends on how you look at the word “trigger”. Any discussion about not eating makes me feel guilty about eating. And not eating makes me feel guilty. I’m 27, and I was anorexic at 13. I also had a period of non-eating when I was 25. Putting my headspace in that headspace messes me up. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to read Wintergirls until I’ve been reassured by enough of my recovering friends that I can handle it. It makes me sad. I’d like to read it. But reading about any problem that you have make the problem worse. (Like reading about ADD or dyslexia makes those get worse while you’re concentrating on the passage…or not concentrating as it may be…)

    But this is not to say that these should be banned. Books about Eating Disorders are excellent for educating friends of those with the symptoms and signs. It’s also good for teens to think about important issues that aren’t a part of their lives.

    I can’t speak for Wintergirls. But I can speak about Perfect, which I regretted reading. I wouldn’t give that book to another recovering person. It brings up too many shame spiral issues. And anorexia is about control, and shame is a loss of control…It’s not great. I’m frankly afraid to read it. Myself. I’d totally tell someone else to read it. I love your other books, Laurie.

  40. I’m fifteen, and even though I’ve never had an eating disorder, so I couldn’t really say, reading about things in YA does not necessarily make me want to go out and do them. Reading about sex does not make me want to go out and find a random guy; it just makes me more determined to follow my own personal values about the issue. Wintergirls was realistic. And even if it DOES trigger some anorexics or bulimics, as was quoted in the article, Doesn’t Anything? Personally, if I had an eating disorder, I would much rather read the book and realize that I’m not alone, than to avoid such issues and feel alone like that.

    It’s an interesting issue, but I do think the author took it to the extreme. Besides: all good art is controversial! I loved Wintergirls and really admire how you pressed limits to give an account of the disease.

  41. Writing about controversial topics in general is a double-edged sword of sorts. You’re going to be adored for taking risks, respected if you research and convey the right emotions and create a character that people, no matter what they’re going through good or bad, can relate to, and at the same time, hated for the triggering material and just writing about something that is inappropriate.

    Personally, being a teenager that has had a past with self injury, reading sections of Wintergirls such as the movie theatre scene, or other pieces of fiction that have had self injury have made me remember times in which I was as desperate as the characters within the stories. However, I don’t read anything without checking a summary about it first. With or without these books, a cutter will cut, a binger will binge… the disorder will stand. If a person truly wants to recover, they will put the book down, read it as a part of the character’s journey in the story, and not their own, or avoid the writing altogether.

    Books like this need to be written. For every person that feels like these characters, there are plenty that just don’t understand, and need a story to guide them through the comprehension of it. Don’t let the people that don’t understand this get you down. I know that I need people like you to keep writing. Thank you.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment. I’m just really passionate about this subject.

  42. Just like any issue — not just for teenagers, but for anybody — if it is talked about honestly, frankly, and the true, honest consequences are discussed, it will do more good than harm. But our society seems to be scared of talking about truth with our young adults. Sex is lied about. God is lied about. Drugs are lied about. Eating disorders are lied about. They’re lied about because we’re only displaying one side: “sex is bad.” “Drugs are bad.” “God is good.” “Eating disorders are bad.” There may or may not be truth in those statements, but it’s so disgusting to talk about these deep subjects without getting deeply into it. If you’re not going to get down and dirty and talk about the reality of these things, then stay away. I haven’t read Wintergirls (yet), but knowing what I do about the way you handle things, Laurie, I know you’re not afraid to get down and dirty and reveal some truth. If truth is discussed, people respond well, and good decisions will be made as a result. I think those at the Well are rightly worried that the topic is brought up but not in a meaningful way for the children. But if it’s meaningful, and not just propaganda one way or the other, it will only be a good thing.

    But then, there are those who think the propaganda or not talking about it at all are the way to go. They worry me. But I think the truth will win out over them eventually. It tends to do that with the right people behind it.


  43. and…….

    I knew when I read Wintergirls that there must be pro anorexia forums out there that you had based them on, but after reading that article, I looked it up for the first time, and I just have to say WOW. You based it off of them SO WELL. And I just wanted to say, I think you did an incredible job basing realism off of the situation, and being sensitive to people with eating disorders everywhere. You weren’t saying they were wrong…you were simply presenting the facts, and I think you really showed just how difficult it is for them to “stop”.

  44. You said pretty much everything I wanted to, thunderchickin — and much more concisely, too. (And you beat me to the exclamation of “anorexia porn, my ass.” 🙂 )

  45. I think most adults forget what it was like to be a teen (esp the ones that post on the NYTimes). They’re forgetting that teens are smart and know what’s going on around them, now possibly more than ever. I think if anything a book that deals with a controversial subject (Wintergirls, Speak, Lessons from a Dead Girl, Diary of a Part Time Indian, Monster, Black and White, and so many more) gives teens something to relate to. They know that they are not alone and that gives them hope.

  46. Wintergirls debate


    Wintergirls is stunning. You/it grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go.

    I just went through defending a list of edgy books in my library in my first year (at this school). Someone posted to me: “You are not doing your job, if your selections don’t get challenged.” I took a great deal of comfort in that.

    You explore teen issues. You reflect their world. You care very deeply about them. You are honest. You are respected by them and by the adults who are in the trenches with them. Thank you.

    Brenda Kahn

  47. I think that your portrayal of the main character was very true to life – the calories as part of her everyday thoughts (counting how many were in every single thing she ate or didn’t eat), the constant thinking of herself as a fat bitch, etc. If you’re suceptible to that kind of thought process, I can see how it may be seen as an instruction manual. However, the way you wrote it was heartbreaking, it made me think, “Why would I want this for myself?” I’ve always been sensitive about my weight. But even if I wasn’t already set against anorexia/bulimia, your book certainly would not have pushed me in that direction. Overall, it was an inspiring book not only about anorexia, but about depression as well. Knowing that you I could pull myself out of the hole I dug for myself was the only way I managed to do it. The speaker in Wintergirls realizes that at her lowest moment, the same way I learned it. She pulls herself out of it, she realizes that she wants to live.

    What will they say next? Writing a book that’s supposed to talk people out of suicide is going to cause more suicides? I think that people are too quick to blame others for their own decisions. Please don’t take it too hard. I feel like they’re just looking for a scapegoat to place blame on for young women deciding to stop eating because they don’t like the way they look. Your books touch my heart, I’m never the same after reading them. And Wintergirls is empowering, in a very positive way (not empowering women to develop eating disorders).

    I hope all that makes sense.

  48. Ok, I’ll throw in my 2 cents… I loved Wintergirls. I love the doublethink dialogue, I love the ghosts hovering near the edges of everthing, I love the scenes with the parents and Elijah, and how three-dimentional every character is. I also think it is a gift to teen readers, especially for 2 reasons:
    1. It treats the character of Lia, and the subject, with respect. By necessity, treating Lia with respect requires discussing why she does what she does; I suppose this includes the “allure” of the disease. Without this, the book would become just another unhelpful directive: “hey, kids, this behavior is bad, crazy and bad, we don’t understand it, but don’t do it.” Teens with eating disorders know why it is seductive; you’re just letting them know that you know they’re not idiots.
    2. Like Twisted and Speak, the end of the book brilliantly discusses how she gets better. Although in the midst of a dramatic part of the book, really she simply realizes that she is killing herself with what she is doing, at least part of her wants to live, and she asks for help. In my experience (not with ED but with other stuff when I was a teen), this is how recovery happens. The book offers a realistic window out, rather than cryptic advise; it gently guides them on the path to recovery. So, keep up the good work. (and sorry for being so long-winded)

  49. Personally, reading about dangerous behaviors keeps me from even wanting to do them. Seeing what happens to people when they do these things to themselves makes me as a teenager make me want not to do them at all.

  50. Do as I Write, Not as I Do

    I’d write more but I just finished a few chapters and verse of the Bible. I’m off to build an ark, lie to my blind father, and pick that lovely apple hanging oh so temptingly from the nearest tree.

    If a book doesn’t make us think and wonder and imagine, why bother reading?

  51. Without reading all the comments: I don’t think books can influence bad behavior. We are all responsible for ourselves. For those who use them as guidebooks asre forgetting the ego. Yeah, they saw it as a way do lose weight, but chose to ignore the sideaffects, probably thinking they are stronger than that person in the book. “I’m invincible, it can’t happen to me.”

  52. ideas for imitation

    As I said in my review of Wintergirls, I think it focuses less on behaviors that can be imitated and more on the feelings that cause the behaviors. It does this better than any other fictional treatment I’ve yet read.

  53. When I was full blown in my eating disorder I would turn to novels & movies about the situation and get “ideas”. However, a lot of novels and movies tend to only cover the basics, things that are common knowledge. Frankly, when I read ‘Wintergirls’ I believe you touched upon the subject very well without the “how to” part in place.

    I can understand why people worry about such things, but frankly someone who is in a full blow eating disorder will do anything, whether they have a novel or movie to pick up ideas from or not. It is just how it is.

  54. Re: Wintergirls debate

    “Wintergirls is stunning. You/it grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go.”

    I think that this line describes perfectly YA literature. It may be uncomfortable and hard to read, but it is so, so necessary. YA literature is a wake-up call, a much-needed reality check.

    I am thankful for writers like Laurie who take a chance and say the hard stuff. She is able to write what needs to be written, and I am in awe of her.

    Great discussion!


  55. Re: Wintergirls debate

    Great quote there. It reminded me of this one by Bob Woodward: “If you’re not really digging into something, getting to the bottom of it, people probably aren’t going to be angry about it.”

    And Laurie, when in doubt, reread that third paragraph. And again. And again.

  56. Just wanted to say that I clicked on the Comments thinking I’d find the usual bitter, one-line defenses and attacks I’ve seen on other blogs, and so I was quite stunned and moved by the thoughtfulness and depth of these replies.

    I’d thought I had something to offer, but instead I’m copying out everyone else’s experiences to refer to later when I’m facing the same issues.

    So yeah, you have the greatest readers, Laurie. And you serve them well by being as honest and trying to help.

  57. A quote from my friend, who is a recovering anorexic (she started getting help around the age of 17, and she’s 20 now):

    “It’s one book. If they’re going to get an eating disorder, they’ll figure it out themselves. It’s a really easy habit to get into; tough to break, but easy to start. The media is the problem here, not honest fiction. That’s why I still hate the media to this day.”

  58. Reading the book did not trigger me to be anorexic, but rather, it showed me that I was already in the early grips of an eating disorder. The way I exercise, the way I count calories, the way I praise myself for eating little every day…It was like Lia was me. It shook me to my very core. I really feel like it snapped me out of the mindset I’d fallen into — the mindset that nothing was more important than being thin on my wedding day and on the beach during my honeymoon. I realized something had to change if I wanted to live to see the wedding day and the honeymoon. I’m eating a healthy amount again, and making healthy choices about my food. I’m taking the steps I need to recover, and I feel like I’m getting there because I read Wintergirls.

  59. Response to Wintegirls fracas

    I wrote a 5 star review of Wintergirls and published it on Teacher Librarian Ning and immediately I got back a message from an anorexic sufferer, now recovering, who cautioned that this book might make some sufferers compete with the wintergirls and this is dangerous. I think many will see this book as helpful but there will be some that will try some of Lia’s tricks. As a librarian I will recommend it heartily. But I will not booktalk it to a class and there might be some students battling this disease…
    It was really helpful for me to correspond with this woman because I really wouldn’t have ever thought of it from that kind of perspective. So I do think because there are all kinds of people in the world that this book may affect everyone differently……BJ Neary

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