Today’s book about bullying is Butter by Erin Lang. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture for you because someone has borrowed my copy. Butter weighs 400lb and is mercilessly bullied at school. His mother cooks him comfort food to try to make things better. At home he plays his saxophone to cheer himself up and talks to his school crush, Anna, online hiding behind his alterego ‘SaxMan’.
Fed up with the way he is being treated, Butter decides to kill himself. Live on the internet on New Year’s Eve he will eat himself to death.
What starts out as a sick-sounding self dare soon snowballs into something much bigger as Butter finds himself transformed into school ‘hero’, befriended by the popular crowd (including Anna) and watches the hits on his website piling up as the suggestions about what to use for his public suicide roll in.
Butter is at times funny and at times a very tough read. Butter himself is often bitter and sometimes a little unlikeable but Lang draws out brilliantly the cruelty and callousness that has made him develop his sarcastic safety blanket. The scene where the source of his nickname, ‘Butter’, is revealed made me gag.
The question Butter raises most is ‘how complicit is the bystander’? Alongside the core of students who bully Butter verbally and physically there are those who egg him on via his website, those who praise him and fete him as a cool new hero for daring to do what he claims he will do. Together they push Butter to a place where he has to go through with what he has promised. Then there are the students who know what is going on but don’t tell anyone who could stop it, and the mass who don’t reach out to try to talk Butter out of it. The biggest challenge in Butter is that to stop bullying it is not enough simply not to engage in bullying. We need to engage ‘with’it, to reach out to the bullied, to say ‘stop’. Butter is about the power of the bystander.
It’s a brilliant, often hard read, but there is a lot of humour in it, and in spite of Butter’s often sharp persona, he is a hero we root for. As the time towards midnight ticks away and Butter sets out his ‘last meal’, knowing that those who raised him up as a hero are now at parties, only interested in him as something to tune into and laugh at, the sense of isolation and hurt is palpable. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a book I very much recommend.