Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Butter, by Erin Jade Lang (2012, Bloomsbury)

Recommended for ages 14+

Butter, as his classmates call him, as on obese teen with diabetes. His relationship with his parents is the definition of dysfunctional, with a father who can barely stand to look at him, let alone talk to him, and a mother who vacillates between trying to get him to eat healthier and indulging him with food. Bullied by his peers, he puts a message up on a school blog where he promises to stream a live webcast of his last meal – he plans to eat himself to death on video on the coming New Year’s Eve.
The news turns him into a school celebrity as his classmates’ morbid curiosity gets the better of them. Seemingly overnight, a group of cool kids wants to hang out with him and invites him to their table; he’s taking menu requests and learns that there are betting odds on what his last meal will consist of. Some of his new “friends” decide to take it upon themselves to put together a “bucket list” – a list of things to do before he “kicks the bucket” – which includes getting him close enough to Anna, a schoolmate that he crushes on. Only Butter knows that he and Anna already have a relationship – online. Under his username “SaxMan”, he has Anna believing he’s a kid from a neighboring school and they flirt online. As Butter’s days get closer, he starts waffling. He has never been this popular, but if he does not go through with his intention, he will be more of an outcast than ever.
Butter is a compulsive read. Told in the first person, we see life through Butter’s jaded eyes and gain an understanding of his motivations. A pessimist who wants to be an optimist, if only everyone would stop letting him down, he feels powerless to change his life because he makes everyone around him responsible for it. He appreciates beauty in life but does not feel entitled to it because of what he looks like. Every character is created from shades of grey; there are no black and whites. Even the bullies have pathos; morbidly fascinated by Butter, they genuinely want to help him, as they would a dying friend, to enjoy what’s left of his life. Readers may understand his classmates’ fascination; in this reality television-centric age, shows likeCelebrity Rehab and Jersey Shore put people at their worst on television for all to see. Butter is a complex character: sarcastic, witty, and incredibly likable. His fractured relationship with his parents feeds a seething anger that triggers his binge eating.
Butter is not a typical bullying story, and that’s exactly why teens should be reading it. It offers many different points of view with well-drawn characters. The adults have their own reasons and motivations that keep the story going, rather than acting as window dressing.
Butter is author Erin Jade Lange’s first novel. Her author website features a blog (Butter’s Last Meal), contact information, and information about her upcoming books.

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