Butter by Erin Jade Lange. Bloomsbury, 2012.
Butter is a severely overweight teen who is lonely and isolated by his weight. Frustrated by the way others treat him and upset by comments students have made about him online, he decides to take control of the dialog in a drastic way. He builds a website inviting everyone to watch “Butter’s Last Meal,” where he will eat himself to death and broadcast it live. Suddenly he’s no longer invisible. In fact, he is the center of attention and the newest member of the in crowd.
While Butter has his occasional doubts about the group’s motivation, he enjoys the sense of belonging. He begins to actually come out of his shell and enjoy life a bit. Does he really still want to die? But if he doesn’t follow through, will his new friends drop him and make him an outcast again? Why, as things get better at school, do things get worse at home?
The story is told from Butter’s point of view. That means we get an excellent insight into the thought processes that could drive someone to do this. But Lange manages to include enough description of other characters’ actions that we can see past Butter’s understanding of them and their motivations to get a sense of how they are struggling to cope with Butter’s problems. For example, Butter’s parents simply don’t know how to deal with the situation. Butter believes his Dad loathes him and his mother is meddling and over-protective. But the reader can see that his Dad finds the situation so painful that he withdraws from direct interaction with Butter, while his Mom desperately wants to comfort him by fussing over him and feeding him.
I wasn’t sure that I would like this book and was nervous about reading it. I couldn’t see how the story could possibly work be anything but depressing. While it is harsh – the story of how Butter got his nickname is heart breaking – it isn’t as grim as I expected. I was truly drawn in to Butter’s story. I could see Butter’s flaws but could also understand his actions. While the book does end on a hopeful note, it doesn’t feel like everything is wrapped up and perfect now. Butter clearly has a long way to go, as do his family and friends.
This is more than just a story about a morbidly obese teen who tries to kill himself. It is a classic coming of age story about a young man trying to figure out who he is, where he fits in, and what he wants to do with the rest of his life. I highly recommend it!
This books is a nominee for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten Booklist.