Pass the Butter, please

Title: Butter

Author: Erin Jade Lange

Publisher & Release Date: Bloomsbury, September 2012

The Hook: Multiple positive reviews encouraged me to get familiar this “issue book” dealing with teenage obesity, popularity and cyber-bullying. Then I couldn’t put it down because of the wry comedy and honesty in the voice of Butter – a high school junior, wicked sax player, unrequited internet lover and generally smart cookie.

The Lowdown (From jacket copy): A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch.

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement. When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live. But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

Overall Impressions: Ironically, Butter’s world is very small – food, TV, practicing his saxophone, school, more food… and messaging Anna, who has no idea that the mysterious “SaxMan” she’s been flirting with online is the 427 lb. boy who sits in her composition class. After two crushing interactions, including one with Anna, and after reading some horrible comments in from his schoolmates, Butter has had enough of the lifetime of disappointment. Twenty minutes later, http://www.butterslastmeal.com is born… and after 24 hours, Butter is getting more attention, online and in real life, than he has in years.

Even with this new, morbid popularity, Butter is still a rational and fairly decent guy – he knows that this is short-lived. He’s frank with himself, even as he gets pulled deeper into the mess. Anna finally knows who he is, and even talks to him, and he’s invited with the group just like they’re his actual friends. The pull of popularity is easy to understand, even as you wince at the reason.

The real issues with his family and his weight are baldly outlined, and I got a well-defined snapshot of the reasons behind Butter’s obesity without the story dwelling on it too much. Butter “sees everything through mud-colored glasses”, a succinct illustration of the frustration and depression he’s going through, that only he can break himself out of. I think the psychology will resonate with anyone who’s ever had weight issues, and might help very overweight teens see what other teens in the same situation are dealing with.

The Highs: Though the story focuses on one major issue, there’s a ring of truth to Butter’s story that sucks you in and makes you want to find out more about everyone. The characters are well-developed and believable, with their own personalities and lives that it feels like we’re just getting a glimpse of.

I appreciated that there were realistic consequences of everything that happens – this is not a fairy story, or a morality tale, or anything that simple. The fears and struggles of these characters are complex, and made me root for them to find the best path out of a set of hard choices.

Buzzkills: Possible triggers: attempted suicide, some pretty ugly bullying, and underage drinking and drug use. Consequences are realistic.

The Source: Borrowed from public library.

Disclaimer: No chocolate, hotdogs, pecan waffles, fried chicken, peanut butter, onion, prime rib, diet soda, strawberry jam, or butter were provided by the publisher for this review.

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