Headspace: Book Recs Featuring Mental Illness
A much talked about topic in young adult books concerning mental health is eating disorders. A book title probably popped up in your head right away. What I think is interesting is how all authors treat it differently. For this month’s column I will discuss two books that are about anorexia that you probably know: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and Paperweight by Meg Haston.
Pre, during or after recovery?
Wintergirls: During and after. It tells the story of Lia who is in recovery when suddenly her best friend Cassie dies (they say because of suicide). Lia, who’s been fighting anorexia, slowly falls back into her bad habits while trying to find out what happened to her friend. The book really shows that, no matter how hard you are trying to recover, it sometimes goes wrong. At the same time, it’s clear that recovery never really is over.
Paperweight: Pre but mostly during. It tells the story of Stevie who’s committed to an inpatient treatment facility against her will. She has anorexia and will die if not treated. The book starts off with her being dragged there by her father. Stevie there has to see eye to eye with her illness and, through flashbacks, realizes what triggered her eating disorder.
Is it triggering?
Wintergirls: This book is really triggering, which is good and bad at the same time. It features all the calories Lia eats (or rather not eats, or, according to herself, she shouldn’t eat). She’s in recovery but is still very busy with counting what she eats. With her parents divorced, she finds herself in dangerous situations playing on their guilt and emotions. The calories of the food she eats are displayed behind everything (apple= X calories). If you have an eating disorder, this is really really triggering. If you don’t, you’ll find out that it’s a dangerous obsession to count every single calorie.
Paperweight: Yes, this is triggering as well, just less than Wintergirls I think. In this book, the focus is really on her mental health and treating it. But still, Stevie compares her body to all the other girls in the treatment facility. While treating the disease differently, it can still be triggering in terms of comparing yourself to others just like Stevie does. The book doesn’t feature calories, which might me a good thing for people who’d like to read about anorexia without the very triggering calorie counts.
How about the message?
Wintergirls: The book is pretty harsh and in the end you’ll find yourself exhausted but also relieved. Lia and Cassie had a toxic relationship and it’s good to read about Lia realizing this instead of obsessing about it all the time. Even though I think the book can be bad for people who struggle with their body image, it doesn’t romanticize the sickness too much. The books screams at you: DON’T CONTINUE THIS WAY! You’ll end up dead like Cassie. Only less in your face, luckily.
Paperweight: This book is more optimistic. At the end Stevie really figures it all out for herself. She knows the problem will stay with her forever, but she’s also determined to fight and win over her eating problems, which, to me, was really encouraging to read about.
If you want to read a really dramatic yet honest and real story about anorexia, Wintergirls is the book for you. If you’re not in a good place, or having body image problems, I would strongly advice you not to read the book or only read it with somebody who can guide you through it and talk with you about it. Paperweight focuses on the mental aspects and will show you how it is to be in a treatment facility. The book is triggering as well, but less than Wintergirls. It’s very honest!
*This post was contributed by Nanouk, Staff Reviewer.
Nanouk is a 22-year old booklover from the Netherlands. She's an intern at HarperCollins Holland, has her own blog and has been reviewing books for YABC since 2014. She has a bookbuying problem and needs a bigger appartement because of it. Nanouk's favorite books are books she can cry about.