What would you do if you woke up one morning with superpowers? Who would you help or hurt? Would your answer change if you knew- or thought you knew- that these powers only came at a terrible price?
Sixteen-year-old Matt is convinced that his powers- supersonic hearing and an incredibly acute sense of smell among them- are at their most powerful when he is hungry. Not just a little hungry, but starving. Despite feeling like he is at war with his body, he decides his powers are a gift meant to help him discover what caused his sister to leave home without warning, to protect his mother from a lifetime of disappointed struggle, and to revenge himself on a town that has always hated him for being gay and different.
The Art of Starving is a meditation on the insidious nature of body dysmorphia, particularly on a young man already struggling against a culture that detests weakness. In the hands of a lesser narrator, it could easily have been overwrought or even ridiculous. In this first-person narration,skillfully draws out the nuances of Matt’s character, using his voice and tone to evoke rage, sorrow, and sly humor in turns. Phelan knows exactly when to trade one of these emotions for another, even within the same scene or sentence. He becomes as important as the author or character in exploring the ultimate mystery of the novel: are Matt’s powers real, or just a hunger-induced delusion?
In addition, Phelan does a fine job of capturing the other characters populating the novel, even when they don’t have a large amount of dialogue. Matt’s mother is loving yet world-weary, his bullies doltish but not cartoons, and crush Tariq is appropriately dreamy, even when he’s being kind of a jerk.
The Art of Starving is not going to be a book that appeals to everyone, but for those who are drawn to it, this audio production will put the listener right into the mind and hungry heart of a truly unique protagonist.
The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller, read by Tom Phelan. 8 hours, 19 minutes. Harper Audio, 2017.