What: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
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).