BAYA Book Review

The Art of Starving by Sam Miller

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Miller, Sam. The Art of Starving. HarperTeen, 2017. 372p. ISBN: 9780062456717. $17.99. 

Matt is no ordinary teen. He has figured out the secret of the universe and it is to stop eating! The more hungry he gets the more clear his mind is, and not just the ordinary “focus on your math class” clear but a “hear through the pipes out to other parts of town and know other people’s thoughts” kind of clear. Sure he’s hungry, and his mom isn’t helping by leaving stacks of his favorite foods out every day. But if he’s going to hone his superpowers enough to learn why his sister Maya left and what role Tariq has in it all, he has to remain vigilant. And starvation is a small price to pay.

This is a fascinating and well-written first-person narrative about an eating disorder. The characters are such vulnerable, likable, messed up people including the kid, the mom, the love interest, and the awol sister. The plot is the kind of twisty-turny family drama that resonated as real. Add in a diverse cast (gay protagonist, Persian love interest) and big ticket issues (eating disorder, alcoholism, mother in a non-traditional job) and you have the makings for a really good book.

But as much as I might appreciate a story about the bizarre magical thinking of a person with an eating disorder, it’s hard to imagine recommending this book to teens. Readers have to get 95% of the way through the book before the main character admits they have a problem. Up until the very end Matt believes that their anorexia is giving them superpowers and the book includes all these glorious hero fantasies enacted in vivid detail. And when, at the end, there is a recovery process, it is covered in broad strokes and without the kind of harrowing detail that might pose an alternate narrative. And so it strikes me as a somewhat dangerous recommendation. If you decide you do want to recommend it though, know there are references to binge-drinking by teens and self-harm which mean it’s not probably not for middle school readers.

-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch

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