Sunday, June 8, 2014

Going down smoothly

Book: Butter
Author: Erin Jade Lange
Published: 2012 (Bloomsbury)

Pages: 293

This was a spontaneous but not random pick based on a suggestion by one of the cool people in our Teen Center as part of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. It's about a morbidly obese high schooler who gets so depressed about his size that he decides to eat himself to death on New Year's Eve and broadcast it live over the Internet, ending with a stick of butter like the one that gave him his hated nickname, finds out that it gives him more popularity than he ever imagined, and I loved it.

 Part of this might be the fact that I am so dead tired of approximately 75% of our new/popular YA books being about romantic dystopias. Granted, the only way I have an opinion about this is because I look at the list of new teen books when they're posted (Tuesdays are AWESOME for procrastinating because that list, the general new arrivals list, and the CD list come out ALL AT THE SAME TIME) and compulsively read the descriptions to see if they really do still sound so much alike (that is a big yes if they're set in any sort of future) and also making my way through the massive backlist of the podcast Read It and Weep; they have taken so many of these bullets and made fun of them for me that I feel well-informed to make snap judgments.

 And then it seems like another 15% of YA is gauzy romance. Which leaves the other 10%, your Givers, your John Greens, your ... yeah, I'm not a teen services librarian, so fill this in yourself.
Point being, this one is good and funny and different while staying painfully true to the high school experience. Butter deals with making himself into a loner by playing the saxophone, trying to keep up his friendship with a kid he spent summer fat camps with (although that proves harder when he realizes how serious his friend has gotten about slimming down for good), and keeping up an online relationship with a girl who's in his class in real life but doesn't know it's him she's falling for in the chatroom.

 When he decides to kill himself with food, he sets up a website that gets him noticed and popular, which makes him start to feel better until he realizes his new friends and popularity are just because of his plans, not his real self. So just when he was ready to chuck it, he actually does go through with it.

 Here's a good time to say that what started out as a terrible plan from a teenager's impulse that obviously wouldn't work - is it possible to eat yourself to death in one sitting? - slowly got more plausible as he got more information. A talk with his doctor brought up the possibility of choking if someone eats too fast; the first party he goes to with his new friends makes him think about alcohol poisoning; his nightly routine reminds him that if he doesn't carefully control his insulin it could make big trouble; and finally he sees someone eating a strawberry and goes, "Aha! I'm deathly allergic!" 

 THAT IS SO SMART. I harp on lack of logic all the damn time on here, and FINALLY SOMEONE ANSWERED ME PROPERLY.

It doesn't work, but it does do realistic damage to him and his recovery is of course his moment of clarity but doesn't make everything better at once. He just finally faces the hard work he'll have to do and finally thinks it'll be worth it to make the move that his parents have been pushing for the past year or so.

 He also remains a smartass who is good at describing how playing his saxophone makes him feel better throughout his whole ordeal. I liked him and wanted him to do whatever would take him out of his pain.
So this was a sharp, witty, compulsive, and touching read. If you know any teenagers who feel like weirdos, give it to 'em and point 'em to your local library. 

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