The Art of Starving - Sam J. Miller
TW: Eating Disorder; Self-Starvation**
Matt hasn’t eaten in days.
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.
This is a hard book, in a lot of ways, but it is also an incredibly redemptive and intriguing text. The Goodreads synopsis notes a similarity to Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, and I definitely concur. There is an almost sci-fi or magical element to the narrative, but the unreliability of the narrator keeps readers on their toes an allows the novel to defy a definite genre classification. It's heartbreaking, but hopeful; difficult, but worth the energy and attention necessary to get through the more difficult moments.
I don't want to give the impression that the novel is all darkness and depression, though! There is a good dose of humour threaded throughout, and the gay relationship components are often sweet and/or heartbreaking. It's a well-rounded story with strong character development and a delicately complex plot. Miller is a talented author with a connection to the content that he talks about in his author note. It's a story of struggle and hope, and healing.
Though some of the subplots are not entirely concluded, I think the overall effect is similar to the fact that self-harm and eating disorders are never entirely "concluded" or "fixed." What I think is really impressive about this book is that the main character is male, and male eating disorders are rarely talked about or acknowledged, it seems. I think it's a solid choice for a subject, even though it is such a difficult one to examine well.
Some may find the fantastical elements to be either an encouragement to develop an eating disorder (this is challenged very much in the latter half of the book), or unnecessary to the story. I thought these elements were actually pretty intriguing and allowed Matt to develop as a character and fully realized human being.
**I included a trigger warning at the beginning of this review, even though I don't always. I think that though the story is incredible, eating disorders in books can be particularly difficult, as writing about them can also give ideas, even if that is not the intent. This is not, in my mind, any fault of the novel, but I would be remiss if I did not point out the fact that some scenarios threaded into the narrative could be triggering to readers who have experienced or are going through an eating disorder themselves.