What I’m Reading: Butter

Most of the YA I read is recommended to me by my wife, the teen librarian at a local library.  However, Butter is something I picked out from her pile of reading material.  I liked the title and read the first page just to see what it was about.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

Author Erin Jade Lange has a killer premise here.  Butter, a fat kid in high school who tips the scales at 421 pounds, is tired of sitting alone at lunch, tired of the snickers and wisecracks behind his back in the school hallway, but mostly tired of trying to lose weight and failing.  When he comes across a website where kids at his school have rated other students’ “Most likelies” and discovers he’s been voted “Most likely to die of a heart attack” and that half the kids in school have left a snarky comment, he’s had enough.  He puts up a website promising that on New Year’s Eve, about a month away, he will literally eat himself to death on a live webcast.

Much to his surprise, the site attracts the attention of the popular kids at his school, who sort of adopt him for the month.  Of course, they’re not really making friends with him–they’re just impressed with his vow and have made him their temporary plaything.  But he revels in the attention, party invitations, and opportunity to have fun, even knowing the same kids are morbidly laying bets on whether he’ll go through with it.

Aside from the premise, Lange has also made Butter (real name Marshall) immensely likeable.  He’s funny, so gifted on the saxophone his music teacher invites him to sit in when his jazz quintet plays local clubs, and quite aware of how others perceive him.  When the other kids give him a chance to be in their group after his vow, they discover he’s actually charming and fun to be around.  You can’t help but root for him.

His situation is believable too.  You see his well-meaning mother cook his favorite fat-laden comfort foods when he feels down, and come to understand how an argument with his dad or a bad day at school can lead Butter on a self-destructive binge.  And you start to realize how his vow to eat himself to death is a way for him to take control of his situation, a natural if not quite rational response to a life where so much is out of his hands.

I’d recommend Butter to any teen.  Teens with weight problems will of course find it of interest, but in a more general way, Butter’s deficient self-image and difficult relations with his peers are universal among teen-agers.  Adults who like a witty, self-deprecatory narrator and a fast-paced but realistic story would also enjoy this.

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