A Gorgeous and Heartbreaking Book
Matt can’t control much of anything in his life. His dad left when he was a baby. His sister—his primary ally in teenagedom—has run away. His mom is working long hours and struggling to keep her job. Kids at school pick on him because he’s gay. And the school has identified him as at-risk and sent him to a psychiatrist. His life is pretty much a mess, and Matt is focusing on the two things that he thinks he can control—revenge on the boys he has decided are responsible for his sister, Maya, running away, and depriving his body of food.
Each chapter of THE ART OF STARVING starts with a rule, and the first couple of rules lay everything out pretty starkly: your body is your enemy, and starving yourself makes you stronger. Matt offers example after example of this as his story progresses… though you begin to realize as you read that Matt, though both charming and interesting, is far from a reliable narrator. Fortunately, we don’t need to be assured that he’s telling the truth about events when he’s giving us deep insights like “…every great revenge story is indistinguishable from a love story” and acknowledges that he’s writing for “boys in general, especially the lost lonely isolated ones, the boys with no one in their lives to teach them The Rules…”. My favorite of Matt’s rules, though, comes late in the book. Rule #44 says “Your mommy really can make everything better.”
THE ART OF STARVING is a gorgeous and heartbreaking book that had me saying “what the…?” while flipping pages so fast I barely cared about the answer to my own question. While dealing with all of his troubles, Matt’s search for love and acceptance moves beyond the specifics of his situation and speaks to every reader. The author of the book, Sam J. Miller, writes beautifully and weaves magical realism with an unreliable narrator in such a way that put me in a mode that was as uncomfortable and off balance as the book’s protagonist—but at the same time left me wanting to believe that all of Matt’s experiences were real.
This is a book that I’ll want to read and re-read in order to glean those beautiful and sometimes painful truths that the author has hidden in Matt’s story. My thanks to Sam J. Miller for a fantastic book, and to YA Books Central and the publisher for an advance copy of THE ART OF STARVING in exchange for my unbiased review.