The Art of Starving, Sam J. Miller: Book Review

HarperTeen / Sam J. Miller
The Art of Starving Book Cover The Art of Starving
Sam J. Miller
Young Adult
Harper Teen

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 to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

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.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

This review contains quotes from the book.

*Special thanks to HarperTeen for allowing us to read Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving.

Sam J. Miller has written a stunning book about eating disorders and the effects of having an eating disorder can have on you, friends and family members.

Matt has not eaten anything in multiple days. He feels as though, by being hungry, his mind becomes more perceptive of the things going on in his life. When what he really wants to find out is what these group of bullies had to do with Maya, his sister, going away.

Matt thinks Tariq and his friends are the ones who bullied Maya, which is ironic because Tariq comes to be someone very special in Matt’s life as the book progresses. Though, the only reason Tariq and Matt become close is because Matt has a plan to dive into Tariq’s life to get to the bottom of things. Which leads him to figuring out who Tariq really is as a person.

On top of trying to figure out what happened Maya, Matt is also struggling not to eat. When he doesn’t eat, he believes he’s gaining powers. By depriving himself in this way, he begins to think he can tell what people are thinking and see things that he should not be able to see if he were eating regularly. So he makes it a point not to eat so he can keep these powers, with little to no regard of what the consequences starvation will have on him.

“Congratulations! You have acquired one human body. This was a poor decision, but it is probably too late for you to do anything about it. Life, alas, has an extremely strict return policy.

Not that I’m some kind of expert or anything, but as an almost-seventeen-year veteran of having a body, I’ve learned a few basic rules that might save you some of my misery. So I’m writing this Rule Book as a public service. Please note, however, that there are a lot of rules, and some of them are very difficult to follow, and some of them sound crazy, and please don’t come crying to me if something terrible happens when you can only follow half of them.”

— excerpt from Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving

What I liked the most about The Art of Starving was the structure in which Miller chose to narrate Matt’s story. With this novel, Miller and his protagonist write a rule book for survival, which helped move the plot forward.

I also loved the relationship between Tariq and Matt because, for me, it was unexpected. I didn’t think Matt would be able to see Tariq other than a bully, but when he does it is truly magical. Miller did a great job with writing about someone who really struggles with body image and self-acceptance. Although Matt has his reasons for why he goes against eating to retain these so-called powers, in reality, he comes to learn that he has an eating disorder he’s not ready to confront.

In all, I appreciated the way Miller was able to write about Matt’s eating disorder and being able to describe what it is like to live with one; it provided a lot of insight for me.

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Jessica Duffield
the authorJessica Duffield
Contributing Writer
I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.