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The Art of Starving Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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Winner of the 2017 Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book!
“Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless, and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making.”—Book Riot
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.
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“Matt is an admirably strong character who is out and proud, brilliant, creative, and determined to survive... Miller’s creative portrait of a complex and sympathetic individual will provide a welcome mirror for kindred spirits.” -- Booklist (starred review)
“Matt is a master at suppressing his urges, but there is nothing romantic about debut novelist Miller’s portrayal of anorexia... discussion of Matt’s future is brutally honest. As Matt’s body deteriorates and his ‘powers’ reach new levels, readers must decide for themselves what is and isn’t real.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of the most important books of the year… How different, and how beautiful, our world would be if we could take its lesson of empathy to heart.” -- B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog
“An extraordinarily vital and necessary book that deals with underrepresented characters, discussions of toxic masculinity, and the effects of bullying in raw and effective ways . . . the overall message of devotion and self-acceptance is beautifully told.” -- Romantic Times BOOKclub
“Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making.” -- Book Riot
“Miller’s powerful, provocative and daring work forces readers to question reality and how much of our world is shaped by what we see.” -- Shelf Awareness
“This book is an ache, a bruise, a slaughterhouse of a love story; every word is a blow, but every blow is an anthem. This is what truth feels and smells and tastes like, and it’s one magnificent monster.” -- Margaret Stohl, bestselling author of the Beautiful Creatures series
“Beautifully rendered. This novel will break your heart and heal it again.” -- Coretta Scott-King Award and Newbery Honor winner Jacqueline Woodson
“As gritty with salted wounds as are all great fairytales, The Art of Starving is The Outsiders with superpowers. It should be shelved alongside the classic stories of unexpected salvation.” -- Maria Dahvana Headley, bestselling author of Magonia
- Publisher : HarperTeen (July 11, 2017)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062456717
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062456717
- Reading age : 13 years and up
- Lexile measure : HL730L
- Grade level : 8 - 12
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.21 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #458,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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For those not interested in short stories here’s the lowdown on the book.
What it Is:
The Art of Starving is told from the perspective of Matt, the main character, a gay teenage boy who suffers from an eating disorder (and is in denial about the fact that he has an eating disorder). The book takes the form of, well, a book, that Matt is writing FOR the reader. The idea being that Matt is writing to people who might want to follow in his footsteps. It gives us a look into Matt’s life, both at school and at home, as he tries to figure out why his older sister up and left the family one night. In that way it is part detective story, part revenge flick, part Sci-fi superheroness, and all of it under the umbrella of a modern coming of age tale. At times it is strange, hostile, gentle, heartfelt, dark, and funny. So, that is to say, it captures the life of a teenager pretty well. It is also not for the feint at heart as it dives head long into the mind of a troubled teenager.
What it Isn’t:
The Art of Starving is not a traditional feel-good story. The characters here struggle. They struggle financially, they struggle socially, and perhaps more than anything else they struggle with identity. I wouldn’t say the book ever gets graphic (at least not OVERLY graphic) but you are reading a book about a boy suffering from an eating disorder written by a talented writer who knows what he’s talking about. Miller, in my eyes, is able to walk the tightrope between not pulling his punches and being open and honest about his subject matter while not resorting to writing something shocking simply for the sake of it. He is able to walk that same line with the sexual content, violence, and other risque aspects present in his book. Art of Starving is also not what I would call a “traditional” story. While I don’t think it ever gets confusing we do get hallucinations, fever dreams, regular dreams, and, of course, superpowers in what is otherwise a very grounded story.
What WILL They Say? / Conclusion:
Many readers might be turned off by the fact that this book chooses to involve the supernatural instead of just sticking to what is already a fairly unique tale (A gay teenage boy coming to terms with who he is in a not-so-progressive small town while he also comes to terms with the fact that he has an eating disorder). And, certainly, some people may also be dismayed by the fact that, if an impressionable young kid were to only read the first 40 or so percent of the book, they might come away thinking that harboring an eating disorder ain’t so bad.
But that, for me, is the power of this book. Like the majority of Miller’s writing it takes you on a journey. That’s the highs and lows. The deep, dark, scary thoughts we all have as well as the powerful, breathtaking revelations that sometimes follow. Like I said above, the book does not pull punches. We are in the head of a troubled young boy as he tries to take control of his life. The themes and messages, like his life, are complicated. And often messy. At times you’re likely to sympathize with Matt, at others you might hate him, and then at others you might just want to give him a hug. And sometimes you may need to put the book down and walk away.
These types of books aren’t for everyone because (in this case) they actually put you in the head of someone who thinks (foolishly) that self-harm is a good idea. So, yes, stretches of this book include Matt thinking that starving himself is working out great. But Miller is a very gifted writer and a careful reading of his book shows that everyone of his decisions comes with a purpose.
The characters in The Art of Starving have to work to find hope and acceptance (especially self-acceptance). Like them, we too, to a degree, are asked to work. Are Matt’s powers real? What is this book saying about self-harm? About coping with loneliness and identity? About fighting to find yourself? How much you “work” depends on you. It’s easy to say that this book, at times, glorifies Matt’s eating disorder. But for those who look deeper, I believe they will find something truly special.
This term typically makes me roll my eyes, but very quickly as I read The Art of Starving I felt like this was an "important" book. And it is. But it's not just important in the sense that it might speak to readers who might resonate with some part of Matt: bullied teens, gay, with eating disorders, struggling for their place in the world. The Art of Starving is full of well-worded lessons that aren't preachy or cliche--and not all of them are comforting.
As to the actual story: The "Art" of Starving is like the Art of War; there are rules, and this book will lay them out. This format makes the book highly readable, a semi-diary format that also tracks Matt's calories, because he's not eating. He's not eating because he believes not eating gives him powers, and those powers will help him find his sister, Maya.
That one crucial word in the synopsis, "believes," is key. The reader, sympathizing, follows Matt through a harrowing exploration of his abilities as he gains telepathy, astral projection, insight to the universe. The reader, empathizing, watches Matt destroy himself with the delusions concomitant with mental illness. Miller straddles this line well, but it's not about the truth of Matt's powers: it's about, abstractly and overtly, what they reveal about him and his world, from his town to his family to the pigs being slaughtered for their meat.
The Art of Starving is one of my most anticipated books of the year, and it did not disappoint. This is a book everyone should read. Maybe it was written for you, because you've felt that sharp, painful hunger, and you know it's bad for you, but the gifts you think it brings you are worth it. Maybe you've felt the illnesses Miller describes, have been in those rooms, and can appreciate the writing. Maybe none of that is true. All the more reason.
But, beyond that, I am blown away by Sam’s writing. His short story, “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History,” is the only other piece of his that I’ve read, but this novel cements him as one of the most profound artists whose work I’ve ever read. His craft is unbelievable.
As a whole I’ve been immediately talking to anyone and everyone about this book, as much as I can, and recommending it. It’s that good. If you’re finding yourself anywhere on the gender or sexuality spectrum that is not textbook normative, then by all means, please make this a priority read. There’s insight into gender nuances which are so small that had me immediately raising my brow and nodding along; there’s such rich thought and critique of sexuality, particularly for youth, that pushes the boundaries of the stereotypical YA, and means so much to me to read as an adult.
This book will stay with me. I know I’ll be rereading it, and that that will result in more tears.
Please read it.
Top reviews from other countries
What really drives the book is the plot around his sister and that is executed very well. I love that the ED is in focus but not the only element of the story.
Matt ist gezwungen, den gleichen Sportunterricht zu besuchen wie die drei Football-Cracks seiner High School. Die außerdem alle drei noch richtig gut aussehen. Und ihn zum Ziel ihres Mobbings erkoren haben. Matt ist außerdem schwul und, was die Sache nun wirklich sehr verkompliziert, heftig verliebt in Tariq, einen der drei Bullies. Sein Coming out steht auch noch an, er hat bloß keine Ahnung, wie der das seiner Mutter erzählen soll.
Und außerdem, und hier ist etwas Neues, was wahrhaftig nicht oft vorkommt in der YA-Literatur, wenn es sich um einen männlichen Protagonisten handelt: Matt leidet an Anorexie, ohne das zugeben zu wollen, natürlich. Er ist davon überzeugt, nicht das geringste Problem mit irgendeiner Ess-Störung zu haben. Im Gegenteil, er fühlt sich überlegen: „Hunger makes you better. Smarter. Sharper.“ Solange es bei dieser Problematik blieb, habe ich Millers Roman fast begeistert gelesen, ich wollte sogar ein paar Mal in echten Jubel ausbrechen, denn hier war ein Autor am Werk, der richtig autentisch und gut schreiben konnte, dem man seinen schwierigen Protagonisten wirklich abnehmen konnte, ja, sogar mögen mochte. Das Thema Anorexie, wie gesag eher unterrepräsentiert, wenn es sich um einen jungen Mann handelt, der daran leidet, hätte es wirklich verdient, im Mittelpunkt von Matts Problemen, und im Mittelpunkt von Millers Roman, zu stehen. Aber leider ist es dann nur ein weiterer Punkt in Matts Liste von persönlichen Widrigkeiten. Denn der eigentliche Dreh- und Angelpunkt von „The Art of Starving“ ist, dass Matt plötzlich übersinnliche, übermenschliche Kräfte entwickelt, indem sich seine sämtlichen Sinneswahrnehmungen so verschärfen, dass er die Gedanken und Emotionen seiner Mitmenschen lesen und manipulieren kann. Matt deutet dies zunächst als willkommenes Ergebnis seiner „Hungerkunst“ – später wird sich herausstellen, dass es nichts damit zu tun hat.
Ich hatte ziemlich bald Probleme damit, dass Miller hier den Sack mit dem „Superhero“ und den „Superpowers“ aufmachen muss, und zwar als Eigenschaften seines Protagonisten. Wenn Tariq der Superheld gewesen wäre – wovon ich anfangs ausgegangen war – hätte mir das besser gefallen, aber auch dann wäre es keine Zutat gewesen, die der Roman zwingend gebraucht hätte. Vielleicht hatte der Autor die Befürchtung, es sei eben noch nicht genug an Themen, es müsse noch ein besonderer Kick in die Geschichte. Vielleicht wollte Miller auch sicherstellen, dass dieser Kick dann eben nicht docheinfach nur in einer „coming out“ Story besteht.
Anfangs hatte ich noch die Hoffnung, dass Matt sich seine übersinnlichen Fähigkeiten nur einbildet, eine Weile könnte man das auch denken. Als sich dann herausstellte, dass er wirklich "Superpowers" entwickelt, konnte ich leider mit ihm und seiner Geschichte nichts mehr anfangen. Das lag sicherlich auch mit daran, dass mir dieser Protagonist, entgegen meines anfänglichen Eindrucks, schon schnell ziemlich unsympathisch wurde. Matt legt sich obsessiv darauf fest, dass ausgerechnet der angebetete Tariq zumindest mit Schuld an Mayas Verschwinden hat, das Matt nur so deuten kann, dass ihr etwas pasiert ist, worüber sie nicht sprechen kann. Nur, dass es dafür überhaupt keinen Anhaltspunkt gibt. Außer, dass Tariq ein großes Geheimnis hat, von dem niemand wissen darf. Der Leser kann dieses Geheimnis bereits nach fünf Seiten erraten, wenn Tariq zum ersten Mal erwähnt wird, und – BINGO!
Ich sollte vielleicht noch sagen, dass ich absolut nicht grundsätzlich etwas gegen paranomale Thematiken habe, nicht in LGBT-basierten Büchern oder anderswo. Patrick Ness hat das in "The Rest of Us Just Lives Here“ ganz phantastisch gemacht, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes. Miller hat aber in „The Art of Starving“ für meinen Geschmack den Bogen leider damit überspannt, indem er von einem wichtigen Thema ablenkt. Schade..