Blog Tour + Giveaway (INTL) : Crier’s War by Nina Varela

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Hey all! So I ended up taking an unexpected hiatus these past two weeks, because life got busy and I got tired and also kind of sick, and I’m hoping to be back later this week and catch up on…uh, well, a hell of lot of things. *stares bleakly at my pile of draft posts*

In the meantime, enjoy this review for Crier’s War, as part of the blog tour hosted by the lovely Karina of Afire Pages. It’s a couple of days late and I feel horrible about it, and even more horrible about the fact that I selected the fan art option but just couldn’t get to it on time. So I’m aiming for later this week with that as well.

Let’s get to it!

 

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Title: Crier’s War
Author: Nina Varela
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 1st 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Politics, Revolution
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

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Crier’s War was one of my most anticipated reads of this fall, and while I wasn’t blown away by it as I’d hoped I’d be, it’s still a very solid fantasy read. Though a little light on the fantasy and heavier on the politics and interpersonal drama.

Most stories featuring synthetic humans/A.I. have their plot revolve around the oppression of these beings and their eventual uprising. This book takes place decades after such an event, with the automae in power and the humans relegated to second class citizens. I found it to be an interesting change of pace.

The book says a lot about history repeating itself, of ownership and oppression giving rise to a cycle of rebellion and subjugation of the masters, which I really appreciated. It also explores the role of women in political stages. Because even with the fall of humans, misogyny is apparently still a huge thing, and women are seen as either too soft or too unstable to be successful in politics. That’s a road Crier tries to navigate, and seeing her excitement turn into disillusionment is frustrating and heartbreaking.

The dynamic between Ayla and Crier is laid out wonderfully–starting out as suspicion and anger, morphing into reluctant fascination to understanding and then into something keener and more desperate; it’s hands-down one of my favourite examples of slow-burn romance this year. And there’s a scene near the end that’s a perfect culmination of everything that came before it. Just so much pining warring with righteous fury–it’s gorgeously written. With the story getting quite grim in places, the girls’ relationship is a much needed spot of brightness.

The worldbuilding is fine…but nothing to write home about. I like the hints of steampunk mixing with a classic medieval fantasy setting. But aside from a couple of major locales, the city (and the kingdom as a whole) felt kind of bland and lacking in details. There’s nothing solid about the setting that sticks in my mind, no clear picture other than fleeting images, and that’s a bit of a disappointment.

My biggest complaint is with the ending (surprise, surprise). Info dumpy cliffhangers aren’t fun on a good day, and there’s a string of big revelations that are thrown into the last chapter at the last minute. The result is just awkward and baffling.

Still. The book has a lot of good things to offer, and Crier and Ayla alone makes it worth your time.

 

 

Giveaway (INTL)

You have a chance to win one finished copy of Crier’s War! Open Internationally. Ends on October 23rd. ENTER HERE

 

 

About the Author

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Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at www.ninavarela.com

 

 

Tour Schedule

WEEK 1

Sept. 23 – Afire Pages | 21 Questions with Nina Varela

Sept. 24 – The Sparrow’s Perch | Fan Art
F A N N A | Reasons for Game of Thrones and Westworld Fans to Read Crier’s War

Sept. 25 – Forever and Everly
Your Tita Kate | Bookstagram Photos

Sept. 26 – Lori’s Bookshelf Reads 
Pages Left Unread | Characters Aesthetics

Sept. 27 – Caitlin Althea 
Pages Below the Vaulted Sky | Fan Art

Sept. 28 – Lauren’s Bookshelf
Reads Rainbow | Playlist

WEEK 2

Sept. 30 – Boricua Reads | Sapphic Rebellious Women in YA
Read With Ngoc 

Oct. 1 – Once Upon A Bookcase
Read at Night | Favorite Quotes

Oct. 2 – Mel to the Any
A Cat, A Book, and A Cup of Tea

Oct. 3 – Novel Nerd Faction | Playlist
Shut Up, Shealea

Oct. 4 – Sage Shelves | F/F Fantasy Recommendation
The Book Bratz

 

Reviews: Contagion & Immunity by Erin Bowman – Biological Space Horror and Maple Walnut Ice Cream

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Title: Contagion (Contagion 1)
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror
Subjects and Themes: Microbiology, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 432 (hardback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.

When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project—including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what could have possibly decimated an entire project, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

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This is one of those “I liked it! The end!” books, so the review is going to be obscenely short.

Contagion offers something I desperately want to see more of in sci-fi: biological space horror. Bowman combines the fear of outer space with that of alien biological entities–all the more scary because they’re microscopic–and creates a entertaining, claustrophobic tale with breakneck pacing and moments that are genuinely creepy.

It also boasts a fairly large cast and multiple PoVs, with an intern named Thea being the central character. I loved the fact that Thea’s not a leader–not your typical confident SFF hero with a smart tongue. She’s introverted yet resourceful and, being the youngest of the crew, feels she has something to prove. Some of the other characters aren’t as developed as she is, but Bowman gives you just enough information to keep you interested in their well-being (or demise).

I do wish the effect of the contagion was less…mundane than what it turned out to be. Something a little more visceral and insidious. Because after the reveal of the “monsters” (space zombies, essentially) a lot of the initial horror was lost. But I enjoyed the atmosphere and tension leading up to that moment so much that I’m mostly willing to forgive it.

And…that’s all you need to know, really. Go read it. You’ll have fun.

And, hey, Netflix? Get on it. I needed a movie adaptation yesterday.

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Title:
Immunity (Contagion 2)
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Microbiology, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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Thea, Coen, and Nova have escaped from Achlys, only to find themselves imprisoned on a ship they thought was their ticket to safety. Now the nightmare they thought they’d left behind is about to be unleashed as an act of political warfare, putting the entire galaxy at risk.

To prevent an interstellar catastrophe, they’ll have to harness the evil of the deadly Achlys contagion and deploy the only weapons they have left: themselves.

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Immunity is a completely different beast to Contagion in terms of genre and plot focus. So much that I got mental whiplash reading them back-to-back.

Here, the biological horror slips away into space politics and human-on-human horror. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping we’d get to explore more of the contagion, and instead it’s relegated to the role of a side charactera chess piece in the conflict between the Radicals and the Union–and in the process some of what made Contagion interesting.

I don’t want to rag on an author for choosing to take a story in a completely different direction from what I was expecting because it’s ultimately their creative vision, but I can’t say I’m not nursing a spot of disappointment. It’s like going to an ice cream shop and asking for Strawberry Cheesecake but getting Maple Walnut instead. I have nothing against Maple Walnut; it’s still a great flavour and life is too short to be prejudiced against any flavour of ice cream (except Bubblegum which is a devil’s concoction and not in a sinfully good way). But it’s no Strawberry Cheesecake, is it?

That being said, I still had fun with it. The characters are bigger focus in this sequel and we get to learn more about the three characters and see their relationship develop into something more solid. A new member also joins the cast: a medic-in-training named Amber who surprised me in the best way. Give me all the soft characters who seem meek at first glance but reveal themselves to have nerves of steel. And there’s no denying Bowman is a great storyteller. She knows how to balance action with intrigue and quiet character moments, and the ending wraps everything up neatly.

Overall, this is a fun, addictive duology that I recommend to anyone with an interest in microbiology and space thriller/horror, and doesn’t mind a bit of genre-swapping.

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Thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing the review copies. All opinions are my own.

Review: Destroy all Monsters – Messy with a Chance of Dinosaurs

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Title: Destroy all Monsters
Author: Sam J. Miller
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: 4.0/10

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Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve.

Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form.

As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together.

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CW: Child abuse

So. I really, really like Sam Miller. The first reason being that he’s one of those writers who takes outlandish ideas and doesn’t hesitate–just dives headfirst into them. I mean, his novels so far include a cyberpunk rebellion story starring a woman who’s an orcamancer, a villain origin story about a boy whose eating disorder gives him superpowers, and now a dual perspective story about a girl with magical camera powers and her best friend who lives in his imaginary world filled with monsters and dinosaurs. Even though they don’t always work (ahem, foreshadowing), they’re still memorable and push the boundaries of what speculative fiction can achieve. And I’ll always love creators who take chances.

The second reason is that there’s always a heavy thread of compassion running through his stories. You can tell he’s writing them because he truly cares about people–the marginalized, the lost, the broken–and wants to shine a spotlight on their struggles.

Or maybe reading The Art of Starving flipped a switch in my brain and now every book of his I read feels like a heart-to-heart conversation. Either way, genuine goodness and imagination makes for a lethal combination.

Well, Destroy all Monsters has both of those, which is fantastic, but for me it severely falters in the storytelling department, ultimately making this a disappointment.

The main culprit behind the issues? Alternating PoVs.

We switch back and forth between Ash’s chapter, which shows the MCs’ lives as normal highschool students, with Solomon dealing with severe trauma, and Solomon’s chapter, which takes place in an alternate fantasy world where Ash is a princess-in-hiding. The problem is that the blurb and the early part of the story has you thinking that Solomon’s chapters are all occurring in his head. So I spent half of the book trying to figure out where the two PoVs line up, because surely some aspects of Ash’s PoV should be seeping into Solomon’s.

But they don’t line up–at least, not until the end, and even then the connection is tenuous.

The characters in Solomon’s PoV are the same people as the ones in Ash’s PoV, but their personalities, actions, and motivations differ (well, only slightly with the personalities). So basically you’re getting two different plots–starring two sets of characters–crammed into one 400-page book, and neither of them is developed enough to be engaging.

Also, friendship is a huge theme in the story but because of the alternating format, we don’t spend enough time with either sets of Ash and Solomon to get a good feel of what their relationship is like.

But the reveal at the end regarding Solomon’s world has to be the biggest letdown because it turns the narrative from a “Exploration of Mental Health via Fantasy” story to a “I’m Suffering from an Identity Crisis” story. It strips away the emotional impact that the previous chapters were building up to and I found the result messy and unsatisfying.

So yeah…Sorry, Sam.

I really dig Solomon’s dinosaur mount, though.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Interview with Sam J. Miller – Destroy all Monsters

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A crucial, genre-bending tale, equal parts Ned Vizzini and Patrick Ness, about the life-saving power of friendship.

Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve.

Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form.

As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together.

Fearless and profound, Sam J. Miller’s follow up to his award-winning debut novel, The Art of Starving, spins an intimate and impactful tale that will linger with readers.

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I’m super excited to be joined here today by Sam Miller, author of Blackfish City, The Art of Starving, and his most recent YA release, Destroy all Monsters.

It’s got friendships and dinosaurs and photography magic and–

You know what? I’ll just let him tell it.

 

Destroy all Monsters

Hi, Sam! Thank you so much for being here today! I haven’t read DESTROY ALL MONSTERS yet but if it’s anything like THE ART OF STARVING, I’m sure I’ll be crying in a fetal position while hugging it to my chest. To start off, can you share a bit about Solomon and Ash and some of the things they’re going through in the story?

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is the story of Solomon, a gay teenage photographer in a city full of monsters and magic, who is trying to save his best friend Ash – the Refugee Princess – from a conspiracy trying to destroy all magic. But it’s also the story of Ash, a regular teenager in the real world, who is trying to save her best friend Solomon from a mental health crisis. As their quests progress, these two worlds begin to collide.

 

What was the main inspiration behind the story? I know this is a cliche, but it’s a question I never get tired of asking because the answers can be so unexpected.

I’ve always wanted to write a story that was set in two separate worlds, half gritty contemporary and half fantasy novel, because I love both those genres and the different kinds of fun you can have with each! DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was born the way lots of my stuff is born – the characters walked up to me and introduced themselves and then slapped me around until I did what they wanted me to do. In this case it was a pair of troubled teens, best friends, from different worlds, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally a story set in two very different genres – and have those worlds collide in wild and crazy ways.

 

I love, LOVE how you combine SFF elements with the topic of mental health in your books–your first YA story was about an eating disorder that manifests as fantastical powers, and now your second one revolves around trauma and monsters. What draws you to write these kinds of stories?

Well, being queer was considered a mental illness until the 1960s! And being queer is totally a superpower. So I’m definitely drawn to aspects of our experience that we are trained to perceive as negative or bad, or illnesses is to be cured, they’re really just different aspects of our self. Life is full of wonder and magic, and the things that we may be infuriated or depressed or miserable about are also things we can make peace with and find power in.

 

This is your third published novel (which is incredible!!) and I’m sure you’ve gotten hundreds of feedback from readers (including myself), but what are some of the favourite things you’ve heard over the years, from both teens and adults?

I’ve gotten a ton of great responses from people, especially young folks, who have let me know that my work is help them process painful or traumatic or confusing aspects of their own experience, and that of course is always my highest goal as an artist. Life is hard, and full of suffering we don’t want and don’t deserve, and great art is here to help us make peace with the world as it is. So just like great books and movies and music have helped me stay alive, I am always gratified to hear that my own work has had similar impact on others.

 

Pride month will be over when this interview goes up, but since there’s never a bad month for queer books, what are some recent LGBTQ+ reads that you want to recommend?

I can’t wait for the next book by Mark Oshiro! And ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING BY KACEN CALLENDER. And I’m super excited for How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters, The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, and Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All The Best, and We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

 

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author
Sam J. Miller is the Nebula-Award-winning author of The Art of Starving (HarperTeen), one of NPR’s Best Books of 2017. His second novel, Blackfish City (Ecco Press/USA; Orbit/UK) was a “Must Read” according to Entertainment Weekly and O: The Oprah Magazine, and one of the best books of 2018 according to the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and more. Joan Rivers once asked him if he was gay (HE IS!). He got married in a guerrilla wedding in the shadow of a tyrannosaurus skeleton. He lives in New York City.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Facebook

Review: And the Ocean Was Our Sky – Moby Dick Inverted

And the Ocean Was Our Sky

Title: And the Ocean Was Our Sky
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): YA, Fantasy, Retelling
Page Count: 160 (hardcover)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

“Harpoon strapped to my back, swimming along the decks of the great hunting ship Alexandra, our sails catching the currents, the Abyss below us, the ocean our sky.”

Patrick Ness is up there as one of my favourite authors. His books are a heady mix of originality and poignancy and he’s constantly pushing boundaries in the YA speculative field. And even if his ideas don’t always work, the world is made better for having them. He doesn’t like playing safe. And I fucking love that.

And the Ocean Was Our Sky is one of Ness’ stranger creations in which he tackles an inverted retelling of Moby Dick. In someone else’s hands, the story could have easily turned belly-up. But Ness, for the most part, makes it work.

I was curious as to see if he would try to emulate Melville’s prose (to some degree, at least–this is a YA novel after all). And while he does keep the introspective style of Ishmael’s narration, it’s still very much Ness’ writing–lyrical in a quiet kind of way.

Written in first person view from a young whale known as Bathsheba, the story follows a pod of hunting whales, led by Captain Alexandra, as they follow the trail of a legendary man known as “Toby Wick” (Yes, it’s kind of silly. And yes, I laughed when I first saw it). As in our world, humans have been hunting whales for hundreds of generations. But in this world, the whales fight back. In this world, the whales are also the hunters. Humans kill whales and sell their parts for profit. And whales take human body parts and sell them to rich whales as trophies and fake remedies. It’s a perpetual cycle of conflict and animosity and there’s little sign of it stopping.

In this story, the whales live physically upside-down from what we’re familiar with–so the depths of the ocean is their “sky” and the air is their “abyss.” It’s an interesting detail and metaphor-wise, I loved it, as it presents the whale and human as reflections of one another. It’s poetic and haunting and asks who the real monsters are in this conflict. Story-wise, however, I did find it a little strange (Does gravity not work the same way in this world?)

And that more or less sums up my feeling on this book. I adored the themes and the metaphors and the way Ness presents them (and the simple pencil illustrations scattered throughout the story enhance the beauty of these messages). Plot and character-wise, I was left wanting a little more. While I enjoyed the pragmatism of young Bathsheba, the side characters are underdeveloped and I felt emotionally disconnected from them. Most disappointingly, Captain Alexandra doesn’t have the same allure as her Melville counterpart and just comes off as an aggressive bully.

In the end, you’re not going to get robust worldbuilding, intricate character development, or an in-depth explanation of this whale society. What you are going to get is a complex allegory on the power of prophecies and beliefs and the idea that we are sometimes too eager to create the monsters that we so fear.

Not my favourite Ness book, but intelligent and enjoyable nonetheless.

Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

Review: Summer of Salt – Magical in Premise, Faulty in Execution

Summer of Salt

Title: Summer of Salt
Author: Katrina Leno
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: June 5th 2018
Genre(s): Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Page Count: 272 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 5.0/10

 

 

 

This is one of those “You could have been amazing, so what the hell happened?” books. The premise is fantastic. Described as Practical Magic meets Bone Gap, it’s about a pair of twin sisters who are about to spend their last summer in their childhood home–one that’s situated on a small island full of strange history and myth. Georgina and Mary Fernweh are descended from a line of magical women–some could control fire, others could fly and even walk on water. Sounds great, yeah?

The first quarter of the book is everything I’d hoped it would be. The island is cozy and quirky in a way that made me smile, and the conversational tone of Georgina’s narration complements the setting perfectly. It’s like we’re on a vacation with her on this island and she’s showing us all its sights and history.

And then the problems begin.

First of all, the writing style. Sometimes the prose is poetic and moving. Other times, it’s more like this:

“Hey, Kathy, what do want for breakfast?”

What do I want? I want the taste of strawberries on my lips, ones plucked fresh from my grandmother’s garden. I want to watch the dawning of the skies as the sun crawls over the horizon and the world holds its breath. I want the feel of birdsongs winding across my skin. I want to be washed by the morning mist in a baptism of hope and new beginnings.

“Just some cereal, thank you.”

Repetitions can be used for powerful effect. When used sparingly. And at choice moments. The problem with Summer of Salt is that the author doesn’t know when to stop. She’s overindulgent with her prose, and what was beautiful and effective early in the book becomes more and more grating and contrived.

Then we have the characters. While I enjoyed Georgina’s narrative voice, all the side characters were uninteresting and their relationships very shallow. The romance between Georgina and a tourist girl named Prue is painfully underdeveloped. We barely know who Prue is and yet the two of them are already declaring love for one another by the end of the story.

But my biggest problem is with Mary. Here’s the thing: I hate stories that think sexual abuse and assault can stand in for character growth. For most of the book, Mary is abrasive, insensitive, bratty, and just not all that great in general. My issue is that no one challenges her on this–not her sister nor the rest of her family. They all shrug and say, “Oh, well, that’s just who she is. But we love her anyway.” And so she remains that way until the very end, when a certain event triggers a change in her personality. She could have had an interesting character arc; her personality could have clashed with Georgina’s and they could have spent the rest of summer trying to untangle the snarls in their relationship. Instead, the author went with a cop out: use of rape as a catalyst for interpersonal conflicts.

The plot is just as underwhelming as everything else. A mystery pops up out of nowhere at the halfway point and ends up fizzling out by the end.

I had high hopes for this one, but all in all, it was a sadly disappointing read.

~

Review copy provided by HarperTeen and Edelweiss

 

The Art of Starving – A Looking Glass into Myself (Personal Story + Review)

The Art of Starving


Title:
The Art of Starving
Author: Sam J. Miller
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 11th, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Page Count: 384 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10 (Champions of the Genre)

 

 

Trigger Warning (for the post and the book): Depression, self-harm, starvation, and eating disorder.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to post this. Because maybe it’s a bit too much. Because I’m running a book blog, for Christ’s sake, and I doubt anyone signed up to read one of my sob stories. But The Art of Starving is a brutally honest, personal tale and I think it deserves nothing less than an honest and personal response.

There are some artists whose work I can only describe as something ripped out from the deepest crevice of their heart that’s then handed to me on a platter with a quivering smile and the words, “I hope you enjoy.” Raw. Intimate. Uncomfortably honest. And you can’t tear your eyes away. That’s more or less my experience with most of Sam Miller’s short stories. His debut novel is no exception–for several reasons.

The Art of Starving is a YA Fantasy/Contemporary story starring a teenage boy named Matt who has an eating disorder. Except he doesn’t. He’s fine, really. It’s not a problem. Then one day he discovers his hunger is the gateway to unlocking a slew of superpowers–enhanced hearing, smelling, bending time and space, and even pig wrangling. And with them he’s determined to seek out the people who have hurt his family and make them pay. But for that he needs to eat less. He needs to stay hungry.

It’s a story I’d been meaning to read since it came out a year ago, but somehow couldn’t make the time. But I very much loved Sam’s short stories, and the book got nominated for the YA category in the Nebula Awards, so I finally caved in.

As I started reading, I thought to recount to myself some of my own experiences with food so I could later add it to the review–a bit of personal anecdotal spice. It’d be fun and completely innocuous. I would begin with something like, “Food is a passion for many people, for many different reasons” and talk about “foodies” and namedrop some reality cooking/baking shows.

But then I had to pause–both the reading and the recounting. Because I was getting uneasy. Because some of my accounts were sounding very, very familiar to what was written on the pages of this book.

“This whole thing is not easy. It’s a fight, most days. Me vs. Food.
Food usually wins. My body, that traitorous thing, makes me cry Uncle. Drags me to the cupboard and makes me frantically scoop peanut butter out of the jar and into my mouth with my finger until I gag on it.”


“I thought about puking up all those sandwiches once I saw what I had done, but that’s a line I won’t cross. If you make yourself puke, you have a problem.”

I eventually stopped reading altogether. My brain felt rattled. I started flipping through my memories and started putting pieces together, while realizing that they were pieces of the same whole. And the whole wasn’t looking pretty.

Then I continued.

I arranged my roughly-assembled thoughts next to Matt’s.

And what I saw was a mirror image of my own thoughts and experiences.

The term “eating disorder” was one I never once associated with myself. I knew I had an antagonistic relationship with food but I never felt it was anything to write home about. And it certainly wasn’t a disorder. But throughout this past week I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the fact that, yes, I have an eating disorder, and tracing my behaviour back, I’ve had it for quite some time now.

This book prompted me to write it all out–a rambling of my relationship with food and my perception of my body, from teenage years to now. This is the (slightly) shortened version.

~*~*

One night, when I was 15, I sat sobbing for hours at the dining table with my forearms stretched out in front of me because I’d just noticed how fat they had gotten. That was when I first decided to start counting calories. I asked my mom to stop making my school lunch every morning. My argument was that I was old enough to start doing it on my own when, really, I just wanted decrease my food consumption as discreetly as possible. And so peanut butter and banana sandwiches became my staple diet. I started exercising copiously, sometimes to the point of being sick–had everyday workout sessions on top of swimming and competitive tennis. It got to a point where I broke out in tremors at the mere thought of skipping a session. All of this eventually led to four months of missed periods, which I couldn’t bring myself to ignore and prompted me to return to a normal diet.

Then, a year later, I watched my friend grow thinner and thinner until they had to be hospitalized and undergo surgery. That was a major scare. I told myself I would no longer care about what I ate–junk food, healthy food, I’d enjoy them all. I told myself I would never do something that dangerous.

I never thought of this period as the result of an eating disorder–the notion hardly ever crossed my mind. I viewed it as a dumb phase I went through as a teenager. It didn’t help that every health guide and documentary I’d ever seen described only three types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Well, I wasn’t rail skinny (I still had a roundish face, my thighs still felt gelatinous, my waist was still too thick, and so on and on…) I didn’t starve myself for prolonged periods of time. I didn’t go on sudden eating sprees. I didn’t vomit out what I ate. I didn’t resemble the girls in those 20/20 features about eating disorders.

I just didn’t like the feeling of being full. It didn’t matter that I had massive fights with my mom throughout the rest of highschool because I hated–so hated–the words, “Do you want something to eat?” It was a love-hate relationship I had with food, nothing more.

Then came university. During my freshman year, I was, for the first time, happy. Truly happy. Everywhere I turned I saw possibilities and knowledge and reasons for being alive. There was no limit to what I could achieve and I had friends and a loving partner by my side to support me through. And I ate regularly. Well, as the year went by, I did start skipping most dinners (I hid my annoyance whenever one my friends sighed and said, “she’s not eating dinner again.”). But breakfast and lunch were well-balanced meals and my weight stayed more or less the same, at around 110 to 112 lbs.

Then, between year two and three, relationships fell to pieces and grades started to plummet and, consequently, so did my mental health. If the first two years were some of the best days of my life, the last two were some of the worst.

In the past few years, from my 4th year of undergrad up to now, I started using food as a new weapon against myself. In my worst hours, when I was roiling in a miasma of disgust and self-hatred, I deliberately, methodically starved myself as punishment for the mounting failures I’d perceived I was collecting. A savage glee consumed me as I deprived my body of the one thing it was clamoring to receive. Because I deserved it, the piece of shit that I am. Because here is a thing that I can control.

Four months ago, there was a particularly long, particularly bad episode during which I starved myself for nearly a week–because I felt pathetic and wanted to punish myself or feel something more than the weight of the void pressing against my chest or both. One night, when I’d had enough, I reached into the fridge and pantry and pulled out whatever my hands could grasp and started eating and choking, crying and hating myself. And that too was an act of punishment.

A day later I stepped onto the scale for the first time in years because, I don’t know, I wanted to feel vindicated–to know all my work made some kind of dent on my body. But I just ended up standing there in shock, blinking down at the screen, because it read ’92 lbs.’

And that couldn’t be right.

And later all the BMI calculators on the internet were flashing “severely underweight” and that also couldn’t be right (for context, I’m between 5’4 and 5’5).

After the initial shock and fear wore off, I wish I could say that it triggered me into some kind of action. But it didn’t. I just didn’t care enough. The reason I starved myself in the first place was to punish my body, and well, 92 pounds was sufficiently punished. There was also a tiny eager voice telling me to see how much lower I can go–“C’mon, let’s try to hit 90!” But that scared me enough to shove it into a dark corner.

Even then the words “eating disorder” never crossed my mind. So what if I occasionally starved myself? So what if I mostly scrounged by with one meal per day? So what if my insides twisted with anxiety and fear at the thought of bumping it up to three meals? It was just my depression acting up. Depression was making me hurt myself. Depression was making me lose my appetite and my body didn’t get the memo because it was still constantly begging for food. I just sometimes–most of the time–didn’t like food. That’s it. That’s all it is. Why don’t they understand?

You might ask, “How did you not know?”

It’s amazing, the sheer depth of false belief your brain will drag you into. How you so effectively blind yourself to truths you don’t want to see. And it becomes hard, sometimes nigh on impossible, when you’re on the inside looking out, to recognize a problem as a problem. Things turn hazy on the inside. The narrative you see is a whole different beast than the one others see.

But there’s a clarity that comes with being on the outside. It’s always easier to recognize the flaws and strengths of others than to spot them in yourself. And with books, it’s easier, at least for me, to swallow them when they’re presented in the form of fantasy. That’s how it was with Matt from The Art of Starving.

I said before in my Robin Hobb post that it’s easier to latch onto a fictional character, your own creation or someone else’s, and forgive their flaws and understand their struggles and just love them in a way you can’t do for yourself. Well, I loved Matt and my heart broke for him (and myself). I recognized my behaviour in his and understood his lies and silences, though they pained me.

Despite that, for about 3/4 of the book (after I’d assumed reading), I thought I was doing pretty okay, emotionally-speaking; there wasn’t anything too triggering. But then I came across this one chapter and this one particular passage:

“I don’t think this is a rulebook at all. It might be what the therapeutic professions call A Cry for Help. It might be a road map to how to get to where you know you need help.

I started out thinking I had so much to offer. But I’ve got nothing to share but the hope that my pain can be helpful to someone.”

And I just crumpled. Broke down, utterly and comprehensively, into wrenching sobs. And again, I had to stop.

There’s a feeling of purging–all the toxins you’ve built up throughout the day, the week, the month, trailing out and away from you–when you encounter someone, real or fiction, whose pains mirror your own. Like your respective wavelengths colliding, kissing and merging into one.

It’s the feeling of being known. It’s the feeling of being told, “I see you. I see all of you. Your fractures and your breaks. The coiled, terrified, trembling thing inside of you. And I know you. Because you are me and I am you. And we are not alone.”

Right then I felt as though someone had taken my hand, that I didn’t even know I was reaching out with, and pulled me out onto shore, shivering and gasping and alive.

And I said aloud to myself for the first time: I have an eating disorder.

And that was that.

~*~*

The Art of Starving not only depicts the haziness of the boundary between truth and perception better than any other book I’ve read in recent memory, it also examines the cracks in ourselves that we so desperately try to hide from others. Alcoholic mothers, closeted teens, abused teens. With his newfound powers, Matt is able to see through their pretenses and disguises and yet still finds himself unable to help them.

What can you do for someone who doesn’t want to be seen? the book asks.

Sometimes nothing, it answers.

There are some battles that can be yours to win, but you have to be the one to take that first step.

Well, I’m not here to make grand promises. To set down goals and long-term resolutions. In a way, I’m still processing things. And even now I can barely believe it. There’s a loud voice in my head saying that this is just a stunt to draw more attention to myself, to collect morsels of pity from strangers because that’s the only way I can feel validated. And about a quarter of the time, I believe it. But most of time my brain tells me, with profound apathy, So what? So what if you have an eating disorder? Nobody cares; you certainly don’t.

And that’s probably the one that should scare me the most.

But there’s another voice now. One that says, “Feeling okay is a war, one that lasts your whole life, and the only way to win is to keep on fighting.” And, “You are never alone, no matter how alone you think you are.”

And I’m hoping to feed it until it grows large and strong and the other ones slink away in shame and fear.

I hope Sam Miller wins a shit ton of awards this year because while I don’t like throwing around adjectives like “important” and “life-changing” too often, this book is both.

I hope it helps boys and girls with ED to come to terms with themselves and seek guidance.

I hope it reaches a wide audience, young and old, because we are all, in one way or another, waging wars with our own bodies.

And I hope it saves lives.

Because–though maybe it’s just me being dramatic and maybe it’s too early to say–it’s pushed me one step closer to saving mine.