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What: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

Who: HarperTeen

When: July 11th 2017

How: A copy of this novel was provided by HarperCollins for review via Edelweiss.

More Happy Than Not meets Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future in this gritty, contemporary YA debut about a bullied gay teen boy with an eating disorder who believes he’s developed super powers via starvation.

Matt hasn’t eaten in days.

His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal. But Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger… and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

This review is hard to write because I think I liked The Art of Starving.

I was about 20% into the book and if I’m being honest I wanted to DNF it. There was nothing pulling me into it. The writing style wasn’t one that was luring me in, the plot was slow moving, and it was just weird. None of these things particularly changed by the end of the book, but once I decided I’d keep going I knew I had to finish it, if only to figure out what exactly was going on.

The Art of Starving is about Matt, who stops eating not only because he doesn’t like what he sees in the mirror but also because with his increasing hunger comes supernatural abilities. Most of these are extremely heightened senses, but he’s also empathic and able to know what people feel. There are other abilities that come into play but I’ll let you discover them as Matt does if you decide to pick up this book.

The weirdest thing about The Art of Starving and the abilities was that I never knew if they were a fragment of Matt’s imagination or whether he really was supernatural. Most of the time I believed they were real because the people around Matt would notice things he was doing with his abilities, but that could have been his imagination as well, right? What really cemented my belief in his abilities is the fact that the author has said this book is contemporary and sci-fi. So thus the powers must be real.

I have to say that anyone who is triggered by eating disorders in the slightest should not pick this book up. At the beginning of every chapter there is a ‘rule’, and almost every single one is about how food and your body are your enemies and hunger and denying your body makes you powerful. I am not triggered by eating disorders but even so these ‘rules’ and a lot of Matt’s sentiments throughout the book were painful to read about and quite emotionally draining.

The feel of the story changes several times throughout the book, which I found quite interesting. Matt goes through quite a few revelations about the people he thinks he knows, his family, and himself. Some of these were painful and harrowing, and some of them were uplifting.

Some spoilers in this paragraph: There was a romance in The Art of Starving, and I have to say that I’m not happy with how it ended. I kind of understand why what happened happened but I still wasn’t a fan. I wanted more from Matt’s love interest because it almost felt like he failed Matt in some ways. I guess I just wanted Matt to be loved wholeheartedly and the love interest wasn’t able to give him that.

I don’t feel like I can say much more about The Art of Starving because there was a lot going on, but because of how many turns the story took I would be spoiling some aspects if I mentioned them. So, in finishing, I’ll say that I’ve never read a book like this. I suppose I’m glad that I finished it because it was certainly an interesting read.

© 2017, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

trigger warning: bullying, use of ableist language, suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, eating disorder (anorexia), forced vomiting, physical assault, domestic violence, homomisia, animal cruelty (graphic), graphic depictions of gore, absent father, fatmisia, and self harm in this novel

I will also mention that there was a sentence that used ‘totem pole’ to describe people who had borrowed a book (the use was not challenged), as well as ‘tribe’ to describe friend groups (use was not challenged).

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Posted on: July 14, 2017 • By: Chiara

12 Responses to Review: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

  1. Tasya says:

    I remember feeling intrigued for this book, but decided to skip it because it might’ve become too dark for me. Now your review really revives my curiosit, but now I’m confused whether in a good or a bad way. It seems like a book with confusing tone? I still can’t decide whether to read this one or just skip it :D

    • Chiara says:

      It is an incredibly dark novel. I’m glad my review was able to make you curious! The book can be quite confusing at times, but if you know that the author says it’s sci-fi then I think it’ll be less confusing if you do end up reading it!

  2. Jackie B says:

    Wow– I remember reading about this book on Edelweiss and passing because I wasn’t certain I’d feel comfortable with how eating disorders are represented. I appreciate you keeping the spoilers in check, but I don’t know if I could read a book where eating disorders win. You know what I mean? I know so many people who have suffered through them and seen the fallout… I wouldn’t say I’m triggered by them, but I want appropriate representation, you know?

    I love how you point out Matt’s superpowers and how you are unable to identify if they are real or not. I love reading unreliable narrators like that where I get to decide. Is this magical realism? Or is this just in his head? Where did you finally land on that topic?

    • Chiara says:

      I definitely understand what you mean. I will mention that the eating disorder aspect of the novel is #ownvoices, though. I suppose it’s more of the association between the eating disorder and the supernatural aspects that were the most uncomfortable for me to read.

      I landed firmly in the “they were real” side of things, especially because of the ending, and the fact that the author himself has classified the book as sci-fi! But it was interesting to question it throughout.

  3. shooting says:

    I’ve seen this one but this is the first review I’ve actually read for it. On one hand, it seems intriguing, but on the other hand, I don’t know if the eating disorder is necessarily handled well. I appreciate your thoughts though!


    • Chiara says:

      Oh, wow! The eating disorder aspect is actually #ownvoices, but I suppose the way it’s written and it’s association with the supernatural aspect of the book could be quite triggering for some people. Thank you, Lauren!

  4. Kelly says:

    I remember reading about this book a while ago, and I think I even requested an ARC from Edelweiss too, but for whatever reason I kind of forgot about it. I also guess I forgot that there was anything about supernatural abilities in this book? I’m definitely intrigued, to say the least, so maybe I’ll go back through my eARC list and read this one. It’s a bummer that the writing didn’t really pull you in, and to be honest it sounds a bit weird, but I’m curious. Great review!

    • Chiara says:

      I’m glad my review has reignited your interest in this book, Kelly! Even though the writing style wasn’t a perfect fit for me there was something about the book that just kept on drawing me back in, so I guess that’s a plus. Thank you!

  5. I know that this is going to be one of those books that splits people down the middle. I haven’t really heard anyone LOVE it, but it’s such a difficult topic and with a kind of twisty twist, and I can imagine that it would be draining to read. I’m so intrigued by this book though! Thanks for your honest opinions.

    Cass @ Words on Paper

    • Chiara says:

      Yes, I definitely think people will either be in love with the weirdness and the starkness of the story, or they’ll be turned off by it. It is quite an intriguing story to read, so I’m not surprised! My pleasure :)

  6. What an interesting premise! I feel like it’s one of those books that people will either adore or despise — I myself am a bit torn on whether to read it (because ED books in general tend to trigger me & I’m not the biggest fan of books that play off heightened senses as a “superpower”). I’ve recently realised that my own hyperacusis tends to flare when I’m hungry or thirsty or tired, so I suppose I can relate to some extent, but also it feels like this book has the potential to really glorify eating disorders to unhealthy levels? That could just be the description, but it’s the vibe I’m getting and I’m not loving it, tbh.

    • So sorry for the double comment, lovely! Just found a review on Goodreads that I think sums up my feelings pretty well & thought you might like to see it: “[I disliked] the ED superpowers. Wow. I wish so badly that the author had left out this entire story arc and just kept it as a standard contemporary novel. I cringed so hard every time Matt explained how his powers weakened when he ate. I understand that it was probably meant to portray the way ED sufferers sometimes feel “powerful” when they restrict; I get that, I’ve been there. I’m not coming at this from an uneducated perspective. But oh my god, it was not worth the trigger factor it brought along with it. If it felt triggering to me, someone who has been on the upswing for a few years now and is in a decent mental state of mind, I shudder to think of what this could do to someone who’s in the pit of their struggle right now or is on the verge of relapsing.”

      From here:

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