pounds (192 kilos) in weight – morbidly obese.
Butter has an online alter ego. He is JP, a sports star and a private school student who of course has lots and lots of friends. JP’s online girlfriend is called Anna and attends the same school as Butter, a slender blonde. While JP basks in virtual success, Butter sits alone on a reinforced bench, befriended by no-one.
Butter has had enough. He decides to take his life, but to make his exit with a spectacular gesture. He sets up a website called Butterslastmeal.com
and advertises the fact that on New Year’s Eve, one month after the start of the book, he will literally eat himself to death.
Of course the one achievement that has eluded Butter in his life comes easily as he faces death: he attracts the attention of his schoolmates, who all start posting menu suggestions on his website. What a laugh his impending death has become. Two boys named Trent and Parker make friends with him in school as well as online. They want to be part of the spectacle. Soon people are making bets on how long it will take Butter to die, how much he can eat. The book rotates around this genuinely existential question: will Butter live or die? And in either case what will be the aftermath?
This is a brave book by a fearless author. It poses the question whether an individual’s destiny is governed by the life choices made by that individual, or by the reactions of a potentially hostile society to anyone who is different. Is this a case of individual tragedy or societal oppression? Maybe both. Despite the undoubted merits of this book I would add one word of caution. I would not advise anyone who is feeling vulnerable, or whose self-esteem is under pressure to read Butter’s story. It will make any such person feel much worse.
Reading the book I was struck by the belief that uncontrolled obesity is like a disability. Yet just as I was beginning to feel some sympathy and liking for Butter, I would get swept away by irritation: the boy just will not appreciate the value of anything he has or can aspire to. Grrrrr.
RB The Lost Girl HHHH
Sangu Mandanna, Definitions, 9781849416177, £6.99, pbk
So often, debut novels star t promisingly with an original idea which draws you in, but then disappoint at the end for failing to deliver on that early promise. The Lost Girl is not such a debut. It begins rather unpromisingly, with so implausible an idea, you can’t see how the author is going to pull it off convincingly. But pull it off she does, in this clever, assured and well thought out story.
Taking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as her inspiration (reading it apparently sent her into a ‘writing frenzy’), Sangu Mandanna imagines a world where ‘echoes’ are made by the ‘Weavers’ as copies of living beings, and raised in
their image, ready to replace them should they die. In a quiet corner of the English Lake District, sixteen year old echo Eva (who has named herself contrary to the strict laws which govern echo behaviour) has been schooled all her life to replace her ‘other’: a girl called Amarra who lives in India. In preparation, Eva must study every aspect of Amarra’s life, from what she likes to read and eat, to what it feels like to kiss her boyfriend Ray. Rebellious Eva, who wants ‘to be human so badly it hurts’, constantly strains at her masters’ leash, though the penalties for disobedience are severe, and even capital. Then Amarra dies in an accident, and within days, Eva finds herself on the plane to Bangalore. She must forget the loving familiars who brought her up. She must forget Sean, the boy with whom she has fallen in love. And she must convincingly lead a life that is not hers, or face destruction.
It’s obvious from the beginning. Amarra must die or there will be no story. It’s also obvious that Eva will struggle to replace her, as would anyone who tried to replicate a real person with all their nuances and subtleties of being, and their uniqueness of soul. And the whole concept of sending Eva half way round the world to another culture, on the premise that she could remain undetected as an imposter by a dead girl’s nearest and dearest strains credulity. But the strain is largely relieved by Eva’s compelling story, and Mandanna’s
exploration of the things that make us human and the fact of life that is loss. The setting is intriguing too. Though The Lost Girl has the feel of a story set in our own time, its themes are futuristic ones. And at the same time, the sinister charge of grave-robbing against the Weavers brings to mind the murky Burke and Hare world of the early nineteenth century.
I did have reservations. Amarra’s apparently miraculous return to life after her fatal accident is too deftly explained away. It niggled at me that someone should have smelled a rat sooner. And when Eva tells us that ‘when they made me they had to put bits of her into me’, I found myself wanting to know more about how the Weavers came to make echoes, and their exact place in society. I wanted to hear more of Amarra’s side of the story too, because it must be pretty unsettling to live with the knowledge that an echo waits your death in the wings.
‘The dead don’t need us. They echo all by themselves’. In that sense, the ending is a foregone conclusion. But it also leaves plenty of unanswered questions and that is fine, because a novel of this nature should.
CS Quantum Drop HHH
Saci Lloyd Hodder Children’s Books, 9781444900828, £6.99 pbk.
‘Nothing special ‘bout me. I’m in every street in every neighbourhood and every city on earth’. Anthony Griffin, resident of the Debtbelt is just an ordinary ‘boy next door’, caught up in a
Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013 31
Authorgraph the children’s book magazine online
No.194 | May 2012
dangerous world of the near future, where the dividing line between what is real, and what is virtual is increasingly unclear. Even more lethally, ordinary people like Anthony are at the mercy of gangs like The Betta, who will stop at nothing to control not just the streets, but whole swathes of the global economy as well. When his girlfriend Tais is left in a coma and fighting for her life after a gang hit, Anthony decides that he must flush out her killer and bring him to justice. But to do so, he will have to venture underground, into the perilous underground virtual world of The Drop
This is a well-crafted and pacey thriller from the Costa-shortlisted author of The Carbon Diaries 2015, with obvious appeal for gamers. I admired Lloyd’s ambition in presenting a nightmare economic vision of the future for younger readers: topical given the current state we’re in. Anthony tries desperately to hold onto his ambition to
help good prevail in a world where the super-rich own 60% of the globe’s entire wealth, and mafias prevail.
There are plenty of thought-provoking moments in this novel. However, its intended global scope feels rather constricted by its pages. At times, I found the scenes in the virtual world hard to follow: the blurring between the worlds confusing rather than symbolic. And Anthony’s quest to track down Tais’s killers never quite catches the imagination, perhaps because the depth of their relationship isn’t really explored. I liked the character of Anthony’s sister Stella, and her Asperger’s obsession with crows, but she felt like a bit of a walk-on, largely superfluous to the action.
‘I can’t focus anymore’, says Anthony, comparing his situation to an eye test where the optician keeps changing the lenses. The experience of reading Quantum Leap was a bit like that too. CS
Don’t miss the next issue of May 2013 Our 200th issue!
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