My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to think when I started this novel. The premise disturbed and fascinated me, but I had put off reading it for a few months since it had arrived in our library. I should have read it the minute it entered our doors. I finished it in a day and it is occupying a dark corner of my brain, and may do so for some time.
Butter is a morbidly obese sixteen year old on the cusp of entering senior high school. His nickname is the result of a horrifying bullying incident about 5 years before the events of the book. We see the story from Butter’s perspective and at first it seems like we should be feeling sympathetic to him, especially when we see how lonely he is. He plays the saxophone on his own because he can’t bear the thought of people looking at him if he played in a band. The internet relationship he has with a girl from school who wouldn’t normally even give him the time of day. Butter’s dad doesn’t talk to him – like he can’t bring himself to acknowledge just how damaged his son is, and Butter’s mum vacillates between enabling his problems and helping to end them. One minute she is offering him low fat yoghurt, the next she is serving a breakfast of waffles, eggs, syrup and bacon. No wonder this kid is messed up. Eating is an escape, a way of punishing his parents, and himself, for never living up to his expectations.
Fed up with feeling out of control, Butter decides to end his life on New Year’s Eve by eating himself to death – on live webcam. He puts up a website telling the world his plans and waits for the fallout.
What happens is terrible, sad, poignant, enraging and entirely believable.
All of a sudden, Butter finds himself popular amongst the “in” crowd at school. They go out of their way to let him know they support his “choice” and will do everything they can to help him make it happen. Along the way we meet people in Butter’s life who really do care about him and find him rejecting all of them, for various reasons that become thinner and thinner as the story ploughs on. My favourite of these was his teacher, Professor Dunn. The Professor connects with Butter through their love of jazz and he reaches out to Butter several times through the story. Butter dismisses all those who show him kindness as “lame’ because who would want to be seen with/be friends with a guy like him? Only losers.
As we near New Year’s Eve, Butter constructs a final menu, and considers measures to make sure he succeeds in this attempt. He is has an anaphylactic reaction to strawberries? Onto the menu they go, but not too early – he wants to put on a good show. It is macabre and absolutely gut-wrenching.
Will Butter really do it? Will he go through with it, or will he choose to confront his problems head on? I am going to make you read the book to find out, but make sure you check your expectations at the door. I was thrown on my ear by this book – more than once.
I will say that I did not like Butter the character. I found him manipulative and just generally nasty. However, I loved Butter the book. I loved it for its realistic feel, the way it confronted issues about obesity, bullying and the way social media can wreak devastating damage on some people.
The one sticking point for me has been the ending of the book. I won’t reveal it, but it made me feel like Erin Lange had possibly become tired of Butter too – that she just wanted their association to be over. The conclusion was believable, but the time frame was very out of whack I thought.
Recommended for ages 14 and up. This is pretty full-on stuff, but totally worth it. I can’t stop thinking about it.