The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

The Art of Starving

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...

Title:The Art of Starving
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0062456717
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:372 pages

The Art of Starving Reviews

  • Laura

    Here's the thing: the writing here is outstanding. Despite my feelings on the plot, I cannot deny that the writing is something

    Here's the thing: the writing here is outstanding. Despite my feelings on the plot, I cannot deny that the writing is something to be admired. It is so raw and filled with emotion. I cannot stress enough how much I look forward to the next novel written by

    .

    This is a story about a gay teenage boy with an eating disorder - something

    rarely done. It goes into Matt's complicated relationship with his own body and how our bodies can betray us. For Matt, he hurts because his body is attracted to the very boys who make his life a living hell.

    His sister Maya ran away a week ago, but Matt has no clue why. He

    there is a reason for it and insists the bullies have something to do with it. He's determined to find out.

    Here's where the plot gets weird: Matt thinks he has superpowers from not eating. Like legit powers. Heightened senses, so much so that he could sniff out anything, read minds, see things that aren't there. That sort of thing... The problem is: is the author glorifying eating disorders? Will young (impressionable) readers think that starving themselves will give them such powers? This could be harmful and the book doesn't really give a full explanation on these "powers" to counteract those feelings. There is never an opposing explanation.

    I appreciate the exploration of homophobia and Matt's struggle to accept himself. Tariq is wonderful. My issues lie with the message the book is sending out, as well as the inclusion of supernatural elements in what one would assume is a YA contemporary (realistic fiction) story. It felt very out of place and had me wondering "wtf is going on" at one point. I re-read the pages and realized nope....still not getting it.

    The theme of self-acceptance is an important one. I just don't think this is the book one should read to receive the lesson.

  • Emily May

    I cannot tell you how much I wanted to love this book. I've been pushing myself through for the past ten days. A YA novel about a gay teenage boy with an eating disorder seemed too good and important a premise for me not to like it. But, unfortunately, this book is

    and I could not get into it.

    There are some great discussions happening in

    I cannot tell you how much I wanted to love this book. I've been pushing myself through for the past ten days. A YA novel about a gay teenage boy with an eating disorder seemed too good and important a premise for me not to like it. But, unfortunately, this book is

    and I could not get into it.

    There are some great discussions happening in

    - namely, the relationship between misogyny and homophobia, and the complexities of bullying and how Matt both hates and desires the beautiful, popular boys who make his life hell. Because, as we are repeatedly told, our bodies betray us like that.

    The main problem was - what I believe to be -

    . Matt starves himself to a point where his senses are heightened, and eventually they offer him supernatural abilities. It isn't clear at first whether the powers are in his head or actually happening, but over the course of the novel certain events are influenced by Matt's powers, suggesting that they must exist outside of his mind.

    I don't think it quite works, and I'm not really sure why it was added. Male teens with eating disorders are extremely rare in YA, so it wasn't as if the book needed to do something quirky to be different. The effect was many bizarre scenes that seemed dreamy and weird, and yet they were not part of Matt's imagination.

    This all culminates in Chapter 48 where things get seriously nuts. Matt goes to a slaughterhouse (I think), releases and causes the deaths of a bunch of pigs (I think) and then summons another character to him (I think). This kind of "I have no freaking idea what is actually happening" storytelling is just not to my tastes.

    Also - and yes, this is addressed, though I would argue poorly - for the most part, the story seems to suggest that

    . A deeply troubling message that is so briefly explained away in a single sentence in the later chapters of the book. I would have liked to see more challenge to this, more of Matt's emotional recovery, and less of the repetitive hunger metaphors. Matt spent so much time telling us how disgusting he was, how his body was the enemy, how hunger was weakness... and very little time learning this is wrong. His recovery is skimmed over and mostly happens off page.

    It is unfortunate, though somewhat understandable, that

    . This is largely due to Matt's introspective narrative that is wholly obsessed with himself and his body. I understand it, though it made it hard to sympathize with the struggles that other characters were evidently going through - such as his sister's running away, his mother's alcoholism, and Tariq's reluctance to come out to his father.

    Overall, it was a slow, strange read, full of confusing and potentially damaging messages on an important topic. We need to see more books willing to acknowledge the body issues and eating disorders teen boys have, but I would hesitate before recommending this one.

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  • Emma Giordano

    (Update 6/30) I am planning on reading this book through a critical lens, hoping to find some good representation but also keeping in mind what is important to praise as well as condone in ED literature.

    I've been thinking about this book for weeks and I was originally really excited for this read. "Male MC with an Eating Disorder" and it's LGBT+? Sign me up!

    But truthfully, I am insanely wearing of a plot where "starvation gives you powers."

    I'm trying not to judge too harshly because I obviously

    (Update 6/30) I am planning on reading this book through a critical lens, hoping to find some good representation but also keeping in mind what is important to praise as well as condone in ED literature.

    I've been thinking about this book for weeks and I was originally really excited for this read. "Male MC with an Eating Disorder" and it's LGBT+? Sign me up!

    But truthfully, I am insanely wearing of a plot where "starvation gives you powers."

    I'm trying not to judge too harshly because I obviously have not read the book & have no idea what the outcome of it will be. I'm

    the author meant no harm, as I've been attempting to do more research on this novel, it's clear the author fights for a ton of important causes, but that's not to say hurt can't be caused unintentionally. As of now, I think the synopsis itself is extremely harmful, bordering on glorification of EDs and I can only pray it's a

    of what the book is actually about. I'm really really hopeful this book isn't as destructive as it seems, because I would truly love to read more stories about 1. Boys with eating disorders 2. LGBT+ individuals with eating disorders. I think it has the potential to be a good story underneath a really problematic exterior. I know as well as anyone that books about mental health should be raw and authentic, which sometimes means the inclusion of triggering content, but this one frequently has me nauseous at the thought of it. I am just really unsettled at the thought of promoting the idea that there is some sort of "special advantage" to starving yourself when my anorexia physically stopped my body from working properly and nearly killed me.

    I'm still considering reading it in the future, especially since none of the current reviews seem to be from individuals with eating disorders themselves, and I think in this case, there deserves to be at least a few. I'd really like to give it the benefit of the doubt, despite my current feelings and fears. As of now, I'm leaving it at "I will consider reading it in the future purely for analytical purposes to offer insight, but I'm also teetering on not taking the change of tarnishing my recovery just to see if it proves me wrong."

  • Kai

    Note: Seeing the lack of books featuring a male main character, or even a side character, who has an eating disorder, I’m so glad to finally read one that tackles this topic.

    I’m having a hard time rating this. When I first heard of this book I was more than excited to read it. The summary sounded promising. A gay high school student who is bul

    Note: Seeing the lack of books featuring a male main character, or even a side character, who has an eating disorder, I’m so glad to finally read one that tackles this topic.

    I’m having a hard time rating this. When I first heard of this book I was more than excited to read it. The summary sounded promising. A gay high school student who is bullied in school, suffers from an eating disorder and develops super powers? Count me in. But somehow this turned out to be different from what I expected.

    Let’s start with the main character. Matt feels lost. He is angry. He loves his mom and his sister. He hates school and everybody in it. To be blunt, I didn’t like Matt very much. He is hurting, he misses his sister and a father he’s never know. But he is, all in all, not a very nice person. His thoughts are bitter and dark and most of all completely unjustified. Sometimes that was too much for my taste.

    The fantasy aspect – or was there a fantasy aspect? – didn’t help the story. If you don’t want to get spoiled, better skip this next paragraph.

    The fantasy aspect was badly executed. We don’t really know if Matt really has powers. But if he has them, he has them all: highly developed senses. He can hear, smell and feel things that are impossible to sense. He can read minds, he can move objects, create earthquakes, manipulate animals. At first it seems to be a side effect of the self-starving, which really troubled me, since many readers could take this as an encouragement. Later we learn that firstly, the powers are real and so is the fantasy aspect in this book, and secondly, he has always had those powers and they don’t have anything to do with his eating disorder. And apparently his sisters has them, too. This didn’t work for me. Either make these powers and actual big part of the story, make them a hallucination as a side effect of the starvation or scratch them completely. In the end Matt’s super powers don’t have an origin, a purpose or an explanation.

    Many subplots didn’t make much sense to me. There was Maya, Matt’s sister, who disappeared for some weird(!) reason, but still calls in sometimes, but can’t come home and also can’t say why. Then there is Tariq, who I liked. He wasn’t perfect, but he had depth. I wished for a happy ending.

    There are many more details that bothered me. For once I would have wished to see more of the healing process Matt goes through. It feels crucial that the reader, who is confronted with all these misleading rules about the Art of Starving, gets a good, satisfactory explanation that makes clear that you should not attempt to starve yourself and/or follow any of the rules at the beginning of every chapter. The attempt was there, but the thought didn’t get through to me.

    The author had amazing ideas and this story has lots of potential, but I feel like Sam J. Miller got all bundled up in his ideas and everything in this book went all over the place. I had many moments, especially in the beginning, where I was in awe with the writing and felt deeply connected to the main character. I wish there would have been more of this, though.

  • destiny ☣ howling libraries

    This quote fits kind of perfectly, because I am

    on what rating to give this book. I think I'm settling on a solid

    , but I'm rounding up because... well, because reasons.

    This quote fits kind of perfectly, because I am

    on what rating to give this book. I think I'm settling on a solid

    , but I'm rounding up because... well, because reasons.

    A lot of things are going wrong in Matt's life lately: his sister has gone missing, he's bullied relentlessly for being gay, he can't come out to his mom because she's too beaten down from her under-paying job, and worst of all, he's got a crush on the guy he thinks is responsible for his sister running away. When Matt stops eating, though, things start to fall into place: the hungrier he is, the stronger his newfound powers get, until he's suddenly able to stop time, hear things towns away, and smell the history of every student in his school.

    First of all, it's an own-voices m/m book, and you can tell. The gay rep feels

    raw and authentic, which was my favorite aspect of the book. Matt is a hormonal gay teen, and the book shows it, with his inner turmoils about boys he finds attractive, or his shame over the porn and fantasies he enjoys. He struggles with body issues in the ways that only a queer teen can: it's bad enough to compare yourself to others from an outside point of view, but it adds an entirely different struggle to EDs when you're also comparing yourself to what

    find attractive.

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    *

    I also really loved the blossoming romance in this book. The LI's "coming out" moment is intended as a bit of a surprise, but I suspected it from the first chapter, which made me basically spend the first half of the book hoping I was right, and that added to the delight of the moment when he finally admitted his feelings. The character in question was such a sweet and likable character...

    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

    . I'm not coming at this from an uneducated perspective. But oh my god,

    . 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.

    The jumpy nature of the plot itself. Matt's primary concerns switched from one topic to another so frequently and suddenly that I found myself getting a little bit frustrated by the end. If you asked me what this book is about in one sentence, I wouldn't even know what to tell you. Is it an LGBTQ contemporary? Is it a book about eating disorders? Is it a "coming out" story? Is it about Matt finding his missing sister? I think it wouldn't have been a problem if he'd just prioritized one specific story arc over the rest, but I didn't really feel like that was happening.

    SPOILERS ABOUT THE ROMANCE:

    The love interest is really cute and sweet until suddenly sex comes into question, and he becomes incredibly pushy, which ruined his character for me. I mean, we're talking about a character throwing tantrums when his virgin boyfriend says he isn't ready for sex. Matt even acknowledges, when they do have sex, that he wishes they were doing it because he wanted to, and not just because he felt like he had to or his boyfriend would leave him. It was such a sad and unnecessary turn of events.

    If you are easily triggered by situations related to eating disorders, I honestly would not recommend this book to you at all; however, if you can handle it, and if the plot interests you, I'd say give it a try. I think there were a handful of issues in the book, some of which included what I listed above, that were just personal problems for me and wouldn't hinder other readers from enjoying

    I did really enjoy Sam J. Miller's writing voice, and I think he is a great guy who maybe just had a few ideas that I felt were misguided, so I can say with complete certainty that I will be picking up his next release and giving his writing another try.

    anorexia, binge eating, minor sexual harassment (peer pressure), alcoholism, suicidal ideation.

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