Art of Starving
The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, recently ran a fantastic article on the evolution of YA literature, called “Young Adult Writers Are Changing the Face of Blockbusters,” and I was honored to be interviewed for the piece!
Here’s the opener:
Before Sam J. Miller sold his debut novel The Art of Starving, structured into the 53 commandments that anorexic teen Matt follows to restrict what he eats and — just maybe — nurture mystical superpowers, he was nervous about how, well, adult his young adult novel was. “You’re cool with all the f-bombs and gay sex?” he asked Kristen Pettit, his editor at HarperTeen. “I think it has exactly the right amount of f-bombs and gay sex,” she reassured him.
“She supported me to take it to the limit of where it needed to go,” he says today of the subversive memoir based on Miller’s own experience with an adolescent eating disorder. “If you are going to tell a story about someone’s journey towards self-destruction you have to make it real for people.”
Matt is a painfully relatable underdog for teens and adults alike, even as his questionable decisions make him anything but a role model. But crafting teachable moments is hardly a prerequisite in today’s Young Adult sphere, where diverse, nuanced narratives have emerged as today’s blockbusters — see, for example, the breakout success of this year’s The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, about an African-American girl whose best friend is shot by a white police officer, or YA giant John Green’s novels, which will be joined this fall with the upcoming Turtles All The Way Down, about a 16-year-old whose character was inspired by Green’s own struggles with mental health…
On July 18th, we launched THE ART OF STARVING with an incredible event at Parlor NYC!
I read from the book, had a great conversation with Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams, and answered some excellent questions from the audience. Then I signed a whole lot of books, sold by The Lit Bar, a magnificent pop-up shop currently raising funds to address the horrible injustice that the Bronx currently doesn’t have a single bookstore!!!
See below for just a few of the magnificent images. And my magnificent husband livestreamed the event, and you can watch it here!!!
THE ART OF STARVING got some fantastic blurbs from some magnificent folks, and some very good reviews – and got put on a bunch of awesome lists – so here’s a round-up of all of them!!
“Matt’s sarcastic, biting wit keeps readers rooting for him and hoping for his recovery. In his acknowledgments, Miller reveals the story’s roots in his own teen experiences. A dark and lovely tale of supernatural vengeance and self-destruction.” – Kirkus (starred review)
16 SF/F/H Books to Read this July – the Verge
Most-Anticipated LGBT Novels of 2017– Barnes & Noble Teen Blog
7 Essential Fantasy Novels for July – Inverse
Best New Young Adult Books, July 2017 – The Children’s Book Review
“Miller’s heartfelt debut novel tackles difficult subjects with a bold mix of magical realism, tender empathy and candor. Matt is delusional and anorexic, but he’s also an admirably strong character who is out and proud, brilliant, creative, and determined to survive. It’s not always easy to find novels with troubled gay male protagonists who aren’t doomed, and Miller’s creative portrait of a complex and sympathetic individual will provide a welcome mirror for kindred spirits.” – Booklist (starred review)
“There is nothing romantic about debut novelist Miller’s portrayal of anorexia; his descriptions are often graphic and disturbing, and discussion of Matt’s future is brutally honest.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
“Sam J. Miller’s debut novel, The Art of Starving, is, perhaps, one of the most important books of the year… a novel with the power to change the world… If you have teenagers, know teenagers, or ever were a teenager, you should read it. If you’ve ever been an outsider, or you’ve ever been lonely, you should read this book. If you’ve ever felt love and heartache, this book is for you. And if you want to teach someone about empathy, friendship, and self-acceptance, buy. Them. This. Book.” – Barnes & Noble Science Fiction Blog
“Damn near perfect… A deeply tragic, if also deeply magical and hopeful story that breaks with expectations to subvert and challenge… perhaps the highest praise that I can give to this novel is to say I wish desperately I had read it when I was young myself.” – Book Smugglers
“His narration is biting, sharply witty and possibly delusional; keeping readers in the moment with Matt and showing only his perspective is a brilliant choice by Sam J. Miller to allow readers full insight into Matt’s mind but keep the mysteries of Maya and Matt’s possible powers at bay. Miller’s powerful, provocative and daring work forces readers to question reality and how much of our world is shaped by what we see.” – Shelf Awareness
“If this debut sounds suspiciously like it will wreak havoc on your feelings, there’s a good reason for that: it totally will. But it’s so worth it, especially with the dearth of eating disorder books in YA starring boys.” – Barnes & Noble Teen Blog
“An extraordinarily vital and necessary book that deals with underrepresented characters, discussions of toxic masculinity, and the effects of bullying in raw and effective ways… the overall message of devotion and self-acceptance is beautifully told.” – RT Reviews
“Behind Matt is a vivid slice of struggling small-town family in a struggling small-town life, and it’s heartbreaking and credible to see how vulnerable on all sides this makes him and why any kind of power, even a self-destroying one, is something to be seized.” – The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“This blend of reality and magical realism is sure to be one of the most talked about books of the season.” – Bookish (“Must-Read YA Books of Summer 2017”)
“Sam J. Miller’s first novel, The Art of Starving, is a gut-wrenching and powerful read about a high school boy clamoring for acceptance… Matt’s journey will feel familiar and hopeful to any reader who’s experienced the precarious scramble for self-acceptance.” – Bookpages
“Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making.” — Book Riot
“THE ART OF STARVING is a gorgeous and heartbreaking book that had me saying “what the…?” while flipping pages so fast I barely cared about the answer to my own question… This is a book that I’ll want to read and re-read in order to glean those beautiful and sometimes painful truths that the author has hidden in Matt’s story.” – YA Books Central
“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… a bruising and incisive story about a boy at war with himself.” – Tor.com
“It may sound like this story romanticizes eating disorders, but Miller doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality and relentlessness of Matt’s illness. The result is a powerful, often beautiful, and believe it or not, sharply funny novel from Miller.” – Bustle
“The novel’s most distinctive and appealing aspect… is Matt’s own cynical, sarcastic, desperate, and thoroughly believable voice… Miller has by now earned the right to go a bit off the rails, and the novel ends up going exactly where he wants it to go, and where we do as well.” – Locus
“In this touching, harrowing, and self-aware story, Sam J. Miller deftly subverts expectations and blends conventions: the coming-out narrative, the superhero origin tale, Stephen King–esque horror. The result is a moving, original novel for anyone fascinated by the limits of self-control.” – iBooks
“This unique and well-written book is a dark, upsetting, and moving look at one boy’s experience with an eating disorder that will leave readers hopeful that he’s on the path to recovery, but maybe still doubting what has happened to Matt and what his future will hold.” – Teen Librarian Toolbox
“Miller’s novel is a stylistic tour-de-force in the way it creates a completely naturalistic, quirky, unique voice for Matt, never pandering or distractingly meta. Matt himself is made wholly believable by dint of what he chooses to share and what he chooses to gloss over. The Art of Starving is a deeply intelligent and sensitive novel peopled by unforgettable characters. Despite its title, it’s an embarrassment of riches.” – Intergalactic Medicine Show
“Beautifully rendered. This novel will break your heart and heal it again.” — Coretta Scott-King Award/ Newbery Honor/ National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson
“Completely mesmerized by this gorgeous gut punch of a novel… my fav book in recent memory.” – Mackenzi Lee, NYT-bestselling author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue
“This book is an ache, a bruise, a slaughterhouse of a love story; every word is a blow, but every blow is an anthem. This is what truth feels and smells and tastes like, and it’s one magnificent monster.” — Margaret Stohl, bestselling author of the Beautiful Creatures series
“The Art of Starving is as mind-bending as it is heart-rending. Sam Miller has written a searing, daring, and unflinching story that I will not soon forget.” — Alex London, author of Proxy
“Brutal and brilliant, The Art of Starving seizes you and refuses to let you go. Matt is a complicated, compelling protagonist, and his raw emotional vulnerability is devastating. Hands down, The Art of Starving is the best book I’ve read this year.” — Alyssa Wong, winner of the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards
“The Art of Starving is a humane, deeply felt, heartbreaking novel, observed with an edge as sharp as broken glass. A supervillain coming-of-age novel that made me cry—my god, I loved this book.” — Alaya Dawn Johnson, Nebula and Norton Award winning author of The Summer Prince
“Sam J. Miller’s voice rings through his fiction, both short and long form, bearing important witness to pain and beauty in equal measure. (I refuse, in point of fact, to imagine a world without his voice.) With The Art of Starving — a wrenching look at a young man’s world turned inside out — Miller has given superpowers to a modern-day Holden Caufield and set the result loose upon the world. Haunting.” ~ Fran Wilde, Award-winning author of Updraft, Cloudbound, and Horizon
“As gritty with salted wounds as are all great fairytales, The Art of Starving is The Outsiders with superpowers. A quest to avenge his missing sister turns Matt into a self-perceived starvation saint. His journey from from addicted boy to recovering man should be shelved alongside the classic stories of unexpected salvation.” – Maria Dahvana Headley
“A biting debut, full of whiplash dark humor and heart.” – Roshani Chokshi, author of the Norton-Award-nominated THE STAR-CROSSED QUEEN.
Two phenomenal launch events are coming up for THE ART OF STARVING – one in New York City, and one in my home town of Hudson, NY, where the novel is set. I’ll be reading from the book, and answering questions, and signing copies!! AND THERE WILL BE SNACKS. This event is free and open to the public and is wheelchair accessible. Copies of the books will be available for purchase, thanks to The Lit. Bar!!!
NEW YORK CITY LAUNCH EVENT
Parlor NYC – 286 Spring Street, NYC
Tuesday, July 18th, 7PM
HUDSON LAUNCH EVENT
Hudson Area Library – 51 North Fifth Street, Hudson NY 12534
Saturday, July 29th, 2PM
Two more starred reviews for THE ART OF STARVING – from Publisher’s Weekly & from Booklist!!
In their review, Booklist said:
“Miller’s heartfelt debut novel tackles difficult subjects with a bold mix of magical realism, tender empathy, and candor… Matt is delusional and anorexic, but he’s also an admirably strong character who is out and proud, brilliant, creative, and determined to survive. It’s not always easy to find novels with troubled gay male protagonists who aren’t doomed, and Miller’s creative portrait of a complex and sympathetic individual will provide a welcome mirror for kindred spirits.”
“Matt is a master at suppressing his urges, but there is nothing romantic about debut novelist Miller’s portrayal of anorexia; his descriptions are often graphic and disturbing, and discussion of Matt’s future is brutally honest. As Matt’s body deteriorates and his “powers” reach new levels, readers must decide for themselves what is and isn’t real.”
Go read the full reviews! THEY ARE AMAZING.
Incredible news: THE ART OF STARVING just got a starred review from Kirkus!! They say fantastically awesome stuff like:
“In first-person journal format, Matt schools readers on the art of starving as he toes the line between expiration and enlightenment, sparing no detail of his twisted, antagonistic relationship with his body. Matt’s sarcastic, biting wit keeps readers rooting for him and hoping for his recovery. In his acknowledgments, Miller reveals the story’s roots in his own teen experiences. A dark and lovely tale of supernatural vengeance and self-destruction.”
Go read the whole thing RIGHT NOW
in his truck
Book Riot ran this incredible review of ART OF STARVING, the very first one to come out. And I love it so much.
HERE IS MY FAVORITE PART! Emphasis mine.
“Shirley Jackson Award winner Sam J. Miller’s YA contemporary debut novel is unlike anything I have ever read before, and combines magical realism, dark humor, evocative imagery and prose, and a deep, huge heart to tell a story of loneliness, addiction, body image, first loves, coming out, and self-acceptance. Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless, and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making, and Matt’s journey will resonate with many, teens and adults alike, for years to come. It’s not out until early July, but I wanted to put this on your radars now; I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be big. Verdict: Buy it because maybe you were lost and lonely once, and then maybe buy one for someone lost and lonely, too.”
My debut novel THE ART OF STARVING got its first blurb, and it’s a mind-blowing one. The incredible Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award & the Coretta Scott King Award & the Newbery Honor Medal AND A BILLION OTHER AWARDS said:
“Beautifully rendered. This novel will break your heart and heal it again. I found myself leaning forward as I read it, barely aware of myself turning pages. So excited for Sam’s voice in the world.”
I’m a huge admirer of Jackie’s work [for real, go read Another Brooklyn, which was robbed for the National Book Award this year – Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was wonderful, but Another Brooklyn is on some next level special], and so honored that she liked my book.
This is really happening.
My debut novel, The Art of Starving, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s young adult, science fiction, super dark and edgy and messed up.
Publishers Weekly ran this story on Tuesday, July 21st:
“Kristen Pettit of HarperCollins has bought THE ART OF STARVING by Sam J. Miller; it’s a novel about a gay, bullied, small-town boy with an eating disorder who believes that starving himself awakens a latent ability to read minds, predict behavior, and control the fabric of time and space. Publication is planned for spring 2017; Seth Fishman at the Gernert Company brokered the deal for North American rights.”
oh, hey, scuse me for a minute
::rolls around on the floor sobbing::
Honestly I don’t even think it’s sunk in yet, not fully. I’m beyond ecstatic to have found such a marvelous home for this book that means so much to me. I owe everything to my brilliant agent Seth Fishman, and to my beloved writing comrades in the Clarion class of 2012 and in Altered Fluid, who, besides providing the love and support and great critiques that have helped polish whatever dull shard of talent I might possess, also gave incredible feedback on the messy messy first draft of this book.
Most importantly, I owe a ton of love and gratitude to my family, my husband Juancy and my sister Sarah and my mom, but especially to my father, Hyman Miller, who for the past seven years exemplified strength and hope and fearlessness in his fight with cancer. Two weeks before this deal, dad said “I just want to see you publish a book before I die,” and we finalized this book deal the day before he passed away. So while this has been a really tough couple of weeks for me and my family, I’m so proud and happy that he knew I had achieved this life goal.
And to celebrate this novel about a sad boy with an eating disorder, here, have some pictures I drew, of happy chubby gay guys (based on the incredible work of the Japanese manga doujinshi artist SUV).