I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life, so it’s often difficult for me to read what I’ve dubbed “fat kid fiction.” Usually, these books are about overweight girls who are desperate to lose the pounds to please some guy, and, miracle of miracles, they do it. They make it look easy. (It’s not.) Well, that’s where Butter, a 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominee by Erin Jade Lange, changes things up a bit.
First of all, Butter is about a guy. He receives the nickname Butter in the cruelest of circumstances, but he kind of takes it on as his own personal banner. Secondly, he’s not all that eager to change his ways. Food is his comfort in a world that would like to pretend he doesn’t exist. Sure, he’d love to win the heart of the prettiest girl in school, but losing the weight to do it just isn’t possible. Finally, when Butter actually makes a plan to shake things up, losing weight isn’t part of the equation. Losing his life, however, is.
After some particularly upsetting comments on an online forum, Butter decides that it’s time to do something to really get everyone’s attention. He vows to eat himself to death on New Year’s Eve. He doesn’t know exactly how things will play out, but Butter doesn’t expect his classmates to cheer him on. All of a sudden, he’s Mister Popular, and everyone wants to know what his “last meal” will be.
Butter isn’t prepared for his new-found popularity, and he wonders if these people–many of whom made fun of him in the past–are really his friends and how they’ll react if he decides not to go through with his plan. Do any of them really care that he’s essentially planning his suicide while they watch?
Butter is at war with himself. Should he go through with his morbid plans, end his suffering, and become a local legend? Or should he finally seek out help? Will anyone speak up for him when things begin to snowball out of control, or is Butter truly on a collision course with death?
So, I finished this book on Saturday, and I’m honestly still not sure how I feel about it. In many ways, it hit too close to home. (No, I’m not going to end it all because I’m fat…but I can see where Butter is coming from.) It’s not easy to live in a world where people either stare or pretend you’re invisible solely because of your size. It’s not easy to hear the taunts or loud-enough-to-hear whispers that you should just stay home or do something about your weight. News flash: It takes a long time to put on weight. It can take even longer to take it off. These things don’t happen in an instant…no matter what other books may want people to believe.
Aside from Butter’s struggles, I’m also unsure how I feel about his so-called “friends.” These people were basically cheering for him to die. I understand morbid curiosity. All of us have rubber-necked at the scene of a car accident. But to place bets on a guy’s last meal or if he’ll go through with killing himself? I like to think most teens–most people–are above that. (Having worked with people of all ages, though, I know that’s not always the case.) It was hard to read these scenes with Butter and the popular kids knowing that they were only interested in him as long as he was planning to commit suicide. Butter knew what was going on, but the starvation for some kind of connection–with someone or something other than food–was so keen that he just couldn’t back out of his foolish plan and really get some help.
I don’t want to say too much more for fear that I’ll give away what happens in this book. I will say, though, that Butter is definitely a book that makes the reader think. What would you do if you were Butter? What would you do if you saw his plan plastered on a website? Were there signs of trouble that people–mainly adults–around Butter missed? Why is it still acceptable in our society for people to be judged based solely on their size? If you know the answer to that last question, I’m all ears…
For more information on Butter and author Erin Jade Lange, you can go to the author’s website, Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook. You may also want to check out the book trailer from Bloomsbury Kids below.