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Butter, by Erin Jade Lange

30 Apr

2012, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-59990-780-2

Reviewed Advance Reader’s Copy

Plot Summary: 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 vaciillates 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 curiousity 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.

Critical Evaluation: 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 like Celebrity 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.

Reviews: Daisy Whitney, author of the Miockingbirds and The Rivals: “Butter’s voice is loud, funny, and unapologetic. I cared for him deeply.”

Courtney Summers, author of Some Girls Are and This is Not a Test: “A clever, tender, and emotional page-turner! Butter’s sharp and witty narrative had me laughing on one page and broke my heart just as easily on the next.”

Awards: Not yet published, no awards yet.

Reader’s Annotation: When Butter, a miserable, obese teen, vows to commit suicide by eating himself to death on a live webstream, he goes from being bullied to being a school star.

Author Information: 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.

Genre: Bullying. Subgenres: Realistic fiction, eating disorders, dysfunctional families.

Booktalking Ideas: Would you consider Butter bullied after he states his intention to commit suicide? If so, how? Judging from Anna’s reaction to Butter when she found out that he was SaxMan, do you think Anna was as genuine a person as she made herself out to be? Was she more upset at being lied to or at Butter being the “mystery man” she had fallen for? Does Butter’s own cynicism defeat him and keep him from losing weight? What would you do if a classmate of yours intended to kill him or herself on a live video feed?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+

Challenge Issues/Defense: Suicide, minor usage of alcohol. Defense: This is a book about the psychological effects of bullying and how one teen chose to deal with it. It is realistic fiction and is not encouraging any one to kill themselves or to eat themselves to death, it shows a teen’s attempt to deal with the overwhelming issues in his life.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

I saw the book at work, read the back of it, and was hooked immediately. It was timely, in terms of writing about bullying, and had a new approach that I wanted to read.

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