Thursday, January 10, 2013

Butter by Erin Jade Lange

296 p. Bloomsbury USA, September, 2012. 9781599907802. (Purchased)

Butter, is the morbidly obese, sixteen-year-old narrator of this painful, yet riveting debut novel. The reader not only learns quite quickly that he tips the scales at over 400 pounds, but also the humiliating way he earned his moniker. My heart broke for Butter as he matter-of-factly recounts his school day from parking his BMW in the Handicapped spot, through the special desks and the solitary bench seat in the cafeteria, through tension-fraught meals with an indulging mother and distant father. 

Butter's voice is compelling - at turns desolate and snarky, brave and frightfully alone. He's not completely sympathetic, he lies to the people who reach out to him, a teacher, his diabetes doctor, his mother, his friend from fat camp. He's also lying to Anna, the hot, popular girl who has unwittingly befriended his online persona.  

I picked this up on a date night at my local Barnes and Noble. On date nights, I head to the Children's/ YA section and the hub heads to the mystery section. We each grab a pile of books and head to the café where, the first one there snags a table, some lattés and a calor-ific snack to share while we sift through our pile to decide what will be bought. On this particular night, the café was quite crowded. I snagged the last table, which was around the corner and had only one chair. I sat down, texted the hub to say I had a table and to take his time, plucked Butter off the pile and started reading. It was so-o busy that I didn't get on line to grab a drink and snacks. 

A while later, I realized that I hadn't heard from hub, checked my phone, texted him again, saw an empty chair, snagged it for him to sit in, and got back to my reading. Still later, tore myself away, looked around through the blur and realized that it was totally unlike him not to text a reply, so I called and got voice mail. Turns out, he left his phone at home. He had come to the café, bought two coffees, looked around, DIDN'T SEE ME and wandered around the store looking for me. This is the man who looks in the fridge and can't find the butter sitting right in front of him.

Anyway, had I not been totally sucked in, I would've realized much sooner that our wires were crossed. As it was, he returned to the mystery section and drank both coffees. Though I was grumbly over not having coffee and a snack, I do believe I was more grumbling over having to interrupt my reading to look for him. The following day, I had an all-day event to drive to and attend, so my reading was done with my ears to and fro in the car. When I finally returned to it a day later, it was with the rabid curiosity of one engaged in savage gossip. Really. I felt like a voyeur.

And I felt guilty about my interest. Was it prurient? Was he actually going to go through with it? Would everyone who viewed the web page actually watch on New Year's Eve? Would no one alert a responsible adult? No one comes off clean here, including the reader. This is raw and real. I would love to have a group of eighth graders (it's a bit mature for most middle school readers) read and discuss it. 

Click here to view the trailer and stay to check out other pages on the author's web site.

Others have reviewed this more eloquently than I:
Literary Meanderings
Novel Thoughts
The Write Path


  1. I agree that this would be a great 8th-grade read (with guidance, of course). I had a group of middle schoolers at my last school who were particularly given to being awful to each other but who often responded to literary characters with surprising empathy. I've mostly seen that in response to characters sort of removed from their experience, but I wonder how they'd respond to a story about a modern kid relatively close to their age.

  2. I booktalked it last week to a class of eighth grade reluctant readers. A few students showed interest, one took it. Their teacher took the other copy. She has finished it already and loved it. She reports that her student is liking it as well and looks forward to discussing it with him. I'm sending it over to my superintendent who loves to read YA.

    Have you read I Swear?

    Thanks for stopping by!