Spread this novel around…

ButterButter by Erin Jade Lange

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.

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Gorlan in ruins, but Ranger’s Apprentice stands tall

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, #1)The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this after reading and loving Flanagan’s Brotherband series, so I have kind of gone about things backwards. Ranger’s Apprentice is shaping up to be an even more amazing series, I think.
The first installment introduces Will, a ward of Castle Redmont after the death of his parents, who is waiting to find out where and if he will be apprenticed. Like all red-blooded boys, he wants to be a warrior and enter Battleschool like his counterpart, Horace, but his path is a different one. Halt, the mysterious Ranger mentor, sees something in Will and takes him on to learn the ways of the King’s Rangers.
This is an engaging tale right from the outset. Will is an interesting character – a little rebellious and headstrong, but with a good heart. Halt is even more interesting as the man who sets out to mold Will into a skilled Ranger. Little by little we learn more and more about Will’s past and also Halt’s and soon a strong bond forms between them. There is also the added benefit of Will’s friends who are also apprenticed in different spheres (scribe, diplomat, cook, warrior) and by the end of the first novel it is clear these friends will feature here and there in the ensuing episodes as all their skills are refined and improved. I am excited to continue this series knowing that the last book, The Royal Ranger (book 12), has just been published.
There is plenty of action and adventure, but don’t think this is a novel just for boys – this bridges all gaps – age and gender – and that is probably the most exciting thing about it.
Can’t wait to review book 2, The Burning Bridge.
For ages 8 to 80!

Summer Rules with a fabulous Tan

Rules of SummerRules of Summer by Shaun Tan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book is wonderful. I knew it would be because it’s Shaun Tan and his work is always challenging, inventive, mysterious and deep.
My initial reaction to Rules of Summer has been one of joy and wonder. The colours, the images, the feeling of something dark on the outer edges that pervades every page.
A boy recounts his summer and what he learned. We see him with his brother and it is clear they are close and spend a lot of time together. The first illustration shows them sharing a secret. The light Tan produces in this illustration is amazing – it feels like summer, an Australian summer, with that clear, glaring sunshine that only happens here.
Then we start learning the rules. I won’t post them all, but my favourites are both towards the end of the book and one of them is “never wait for an apology”.
These are not rules just for summer, these are rules (and metaphors) for life and living it.

This book is an emotional, colourful, vibrant experience. This book could and should be read by all children from 8 to 80. Everyone, I suspect, will see something different in Rules of Summer and THAT is the absolute best thing about it.

Get this book in your hands NOW.

Screams a-plenty, but ghostly in substance

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co, #1)The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the cover and the title I expected this book to be set in the Victorian era. Imagine my surprise when I realised it is set in the present day!
I have mixed feelings about this book. It took a really long time to get going and I kind of feel like I have seen many of the characters before (some real cliches here).
The story centres around Lucy Carlyle, who has until recently been ghost hunting for a very reputable firm. Ghost hunters are the norm in London, due to “the Problem” of a dramatic surge in paranormal activity and entities. She has a particular talent for hearing the spirits and it is this that has helped to propel her through the ranks quite quickly. After a nasty incident that ended badly, she finds herself a free agent and lands a job with Lockwood and Co. This company, run by the flamboyant and young Anthony Lockwood and his assistant, George, is still in its infancy, but quickly gaining a reputation across London for being able to capture or eliminate ghosts that no other firm can. After a case where they manage to burn the client’s home to the ground, the trio are forced to take a dangerous job hunting down the ghost of one of the most haunted houses in England, the house with The Screaming Staircase.
Lucy could well be any “strong” female protagonist and I didn’t feel she was rounded out enough, even after 400 pages. Lockwood, the director of the company, reminded me too much of Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock in Elementary and George, the fat typecast “bookish” sidekick really annoyed me – I think it was just lazy writing.
That said, the book moves at a great pace and I found the action scenes certainly had me quickly turning the pages. There just wasn’t enough of that and I think this novel could have done just as well with 50 pages less. Just a note for the squeamish, it is a reasonably bloodthirsty story too.
I was disappointed overall and I wish I could give a half star (so, two and a half), but I have settled for three. Not a series I would pursue further, but I would dip into the next one to see if things had improved.
Ages 13 and up.