Shaun Hutchinson's Reviews > The Art of Starving

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
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it was amazing

There were days when I was depressed when I would lay in bed for 20 hours with my eyes closed, and I began to believe I could see through my eyelids. I didn't know if it was echolocation or X-ray vision, but I believed. There were other days when I could cut myself, and the pain made me feel powerful. It didn't feel like I was bleeding out, but that I was bleeding in. I know that none of those things were true. I know that I couldn't see through my eyelids and that cutting didn't make me powerful, but I felt it at the time.

Maybe Matt's struggle with his eating disorder and body dysmorphia and their connection to his superpowers doesn't make sense to you. But it makes perfect sense to me. I think Sam J. Miller walks a very fine line in The Art of Starving. How to accurately portray the feelings of a boy who is justifying his decision to starve himself and how it makes him feel with the reality of eating disorders and without glorifying them. And I think Miller does it really well. I never had an eating disorder, but along with depression, I've suffered from body dysmorphia my entire life. I know what it's like to look in the mirror and hate what you see staring back. Miller's description of Matt's struggles rang so true to me that they were often too painful to read and I needed to take a break.

But the book isn't just breaking down dealing with an ED, it's exploring the connection gay men have with idealized bodies, toxic masculinity, the ways in which we hide addictions in plain sight. One scene in particular really hit me hard. It was when Tariq had (view spoiler) It hurt so much to watch Matt go through that, but I'm glad Tariq turned out to be an actual good guy.

The biggest criticism I see here is from people who think leaving the "superpowers" ambiguous could lead susceptible teens to see this as a manual rather than a warning, but I disagree. I think that while Miller did leave it open as to whether or not the powers existed, he is very clear that they are not connected to Matt starving himself. If Matt is an unreliable narrator and doesn't have powers, then his "powers" are mental manifestations of his problems. If the powers ARE real (and I like to believe they are) then they came from within Matt and he never needed to starve himself to access them, just as is shown in the end when he calls the wind. So I think the criticisms that it's too ambiguous miss the mark. I think Sam J. Miller makes the point about the harms of eating disorders VERY clearly without being didactic or Very Special Lesson about it.

Of course, I would have liked to have gotten to know Tariq a little more, and I would have liked seeing a little more into Matt's treatment, but I get why Miller didn't go there. The treatment wasn't the point, it was the admission that he needed it. That was the point.

All in all, this is a great addition to the growing world of gay YA lit, and I can't wait to see what Sam J. Miller writes next.
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Reading Progress

October 16, 2017 – Started Reading
October 16, 2017 – Shelved
October 16, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Eli (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eli Amazing review, Sean. I completely agree about the powers. I find it slightly ridiculous that people are criticizing the book because of a metaphor. It seemed obvious that the message was that self-hate can make you feel powerful and in control, but you're a thousand times more powerful when you love yourself. As someone who's gone through extremely similar experiences dealing with anorexia and psychosis, this book was extremely powerful to me, and there are so few YA books out there that really accurately capture what it's like to go through such a complicated slew of symptoms and confusion of reality.

Shaun Hutchinson Misha wrote: "It seemed obvious that the message was that self-hate can make you feel powerful and in control, but you're a thousand times more powerful when you love yourself."

Yes! This was it! You nailed it far more eloquently than I.

BookChampions This is the best YA novel I've read since We Are the Ants. I feel like they are brother books, and they sit side-by-side on my shelf. I'm so glad you liked it, too; thanks for sharing your review.

Eddie This book and We Are The Ants have had an
impact on me that I am still sorting it out. Fantastic quality literature for young people. Thamk you.

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