by Judith Hayn
Lange, Erin Jade. Butter. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Butter weighs 423 pounds, and his nickname originates from a particularly repulsive act of bullying his freshman year. He narrates this cautionary tale of the first semester his junior year in a Scottsdale, Arizona, high school. He wants desperately to fit in and to have the girl of his dreams even notice him. The first goal appears to be possible when he sets up a website vowing to eat himself to death online on New Year’s Eve. The scheme to get the girl involves the assumption of another identity as he connects, again online, with his lovely classmate Anna; only she has no picture of him and accepts his fake persona of a rich, athletic student at a private local prep school. The popular kids latch onto the eating to death scheme as a way to amuse themselves at Butter’s expense as he becomes a large pet for the “in” crowd. The whole scenario is doomed from the start while Butter is in denial about the impending catastrophe.
While the reader roots for him to wake up to what is happening and take action, the feelings of self-hatred are too enmeshed in Butter; not even his amazing talent on the saxophone can save him. The discussion of options for obese teens offers avenues of hope, but Butter cannot seem to accept these; even the concerned advice from his therapist and music teacher, along with his mother’s misguided manipulation with food, meet resistance. Donna Cooner’s 2012 book Skinny deals with the same theme although her protagonist is a girl who chooses gastric by-pass surgery. Both are powerful texts and uncomfortable reads for those who struggle with weight and those who don’t but need to understand—many teen reviews of these books on the Internet reveal a disturbing bias about overweight people.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn is an associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).