For all the reading I do, and all the characters I fall in love with, I’ve never really found a character I could truly empathise with. That is, until I read Butter by Erin Lange. It was the character of Butter who I could really see myself in, and judging from the reviews I’ve read on it, I appear to be one of the only ones – or at least one of the only ones who admits it. Honestly, I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing – on the one hand, it means people aren’t feeling how Butter himself feels, and on the other hand, it makes me feel strange saying “Yes, I can relate to this character!”
Butter is about a vastly overweight teenager who is referred to throughout simply as Butter and is so fed up of it that he’s decided to kill himself – in fact, he’s decided to eat himself to death. After seeing on a “Most Likely” page for his school that he’s believed to be the most likely to die of a heart attack, and then hearing on the news that airlines were going to start charging obese people for two seats on a plane, Butter starts his own blog where he announces that on the 31st of December, he’s going to film a live broadcast of him eating himself to death.
Focussing an entire book around the contemplation of suicide can be a risky and touchy subject, but author Erin Lange handles it very well. Although Butter’s suicide is the focal point, the book still doesn’t make it the ONLY point of the book – it also looks at Butter’s relationships: with a girl called Anna, and how they interact in school and online, where she doesn’t know it’s him; his contrasting relationships with his mum and dad; how his school peers change around him once they hear about his suicide plan; and finally his relationship with a music teacher in the school. In short, the book tackles everyday issues which affect us all, but puts a more serious spin on it.
Butter himself also manages to be a pretty real character – more like an actual person than just part of someone’s imagination. You feel sorry for him when you see how he’s treated by his peers and even his family (his dad makes me pretty angry throughout) and the whole aspect of his suicide brings about a lot of sympathy anyway. However, he’s not a stereotypical character who can do no wrong, so there are points throughout the book where you feel aggravated by him and think that really, he needs to get a grip and stop being so petty. That’s something I really enjoyed about this book as Butter isn’t just lumped as a character everyone needs to feel sorry for and he can’t do anything else, he instead is just like a real person, and that’s not something I’ve seen an awful lot in books these days.
Despite all the build up to Butter’s suicide, however, you just know straight from the outset that he’s not actually going to go through with it – or, if he does, something will happen that will mean he survives. I know saying “I wish he did actually die” is going to make me sound quite weird and a bit odd, but that’s genuinely how I wanted the book to end. It would have been interesting, and ACCURATE of what Butter wanted – or thought he wanted at the time – and it would have been quite unique to the books I’ve read because nobody ever seems to kill their main character or have their main character kill themselves.
Although that annoyed me slightly, the book was very good and I enjoyed it a lot. Quite a few parts brought tears to my eyes, mostly towards the end, and mostly revolving around his dad, who managed to ignore him throughout the book. Butter wants to be acknowledged by him, a fact which we can clearly see, so when his dad says to him (in regards to his saxophone playing) “‘No, I missed my chance to be your coach. But if it’s not too late, I’d like to be a fan’”, you can completely understand why Butter says he has to fight a lump in his throat – I had to as well, but all that effort was left meaningless when his dad admits he still goes to “their” mountain, which is something Butter still does but thought his dad had given up on. Butter’s relationship with Anna (a girl in his school he talks to online with the alias JP) is resolved and I like how they ended up friends. In fact, it’s through their eventual friendship that, on the very last page of the book, we find out Butter’s real name, Marshall. Up until the last few pages, I realised we had never been told his real name, he was just referred to as Butter – it was accepted, really, and Butter himself did nothing to change it. I stopped noticing pretty quickly that that obviously wasn’t his real name, and I think that was cleverly done on Erin Lange’s part – some authors may write something like that in such a way that you spend most of the book thinking “can you just tell me his name already?”, but she manages to make it all so natural and smooth, that it all just flows and you don’t think twice.
All in all, I was very pleased with this book. It’s well–written, it’s clever, it’s emotional, and it’s funny in places too. I definitely recommend reading Butter and I know it’s one that I’ll be going back to more than once.