Matt is anorexic, but that’s not what he’d tell you. People with eating disorders have a problem, after all, and what Matt has are powers. High school was hell until he discovered them, realizing that the less he ate, the greater his senses became. But bullying is easier to avoid when you can hear the bully coming from a mile away, and easier to overcome with when you can read the bully’s mind. Before he discovered his powers, Matt’s sister Maya disappeared without a trace and his mom was on the verge of losing her job; but now he can do for them what they’ve always done for him—he can save them.
Sam J. Miller’s debut YA novel, The Art of Starving, is exactly as wounding as its synopsis implies, but twice as profound. Framed as a rule book for aspiring superhumans like Matt, the novel is too tongue-in-cheek and bizarre to veer into the realm of the Morality Tale where so many other YA novels of its ilk reside. Matt is a poor, gay, Jewish teen boy with an eating disorder; the possibilities for tragedy porn and adult sermonizing are basically endless. Instead, Miller has written a bruising and incisive story about a boy at war with himself—with his hunger, with his lust, with the things that tie him to the world. Instead, Miller has made that war only a means to an end, with Matt’s quest to find his sister and to enact vengeance on his bullies front and center. The Art of Starving is a rule book where its rules self-destruct, slowly but surely, in tandem with its narrator.