Butter by Erin Lange

9780571294404Butter is a tough book to describe, much like Wonder by R. J. Palacio was. As with Wonder, on the outside, Butter looks as though it is going to be predictably saccharine and overly hard on its moral core. After all, this is a novel about a seriously obese teenager who vows to kill himself by eating a last meal on the internet. I’d be lying if I said the book didn’t deal with the subject of bullying and confidence issues, however, I want people to put to one side.

The central character of Butter is a complex creation and Lange must be applauded for how he is crafted. We open by hearing about how hard the life of Butters is – he is the outcast, the loner who sits by himself in the lunch room and must have a specially built desk in order to study. He is instantly endearing to an audience. But there is another side to the titular character; he is a reasonably spoiled and mollycoddled young man. He lives in a rich area of Arizona, he drives an expensive car and his mother dotes on him to extreme lengths. We soon begin to see that much of his sadness is self-created.

He doesn’t push himself to change despite the trips to fat camp and his only friends’ encouragement. For Butter his only plan is to end it all at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It is once his plan is revealed that his life changes. Suddenly Butter is centre of attention at school and the popular kids all want to be seen with the kid with balls big enough to pull of this stunt. This is where the book strays into uncomfortable territory as Butter puts himself out there for all to see (and criticize). The novel is enjoyable, it pokes fun at taboo and Butter is a deep and interesting character. I miss him now I’ve closed the book.

There are of course a few clichés along the way. Most apparent is the pretty girl who Butter loves and he even pretends to be someone else in an online chat room to win her heart. There’s also the fact that this “fat kid” has the surprising talent of being able to play the saxophone like a musical lothario, which seems a little too easy, but is used without becoming cheesy. Thankfully the predictability ends here, the ending and the situations leading up to it are surprising. I was quite shocked to read the last fifty pages and was too enthralled to put the book down.

Published by Faber. This book was kindly by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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