Over 32,000 teen readers cast their vote for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten, and The Hub is celebrating their choices! Today we feature Erin Jade Lange, whose book Butter is #10 on this year’s Teen’s Top Ten list.
Butter is the story of an obese teen who in a moment of despair decides to kill himself– live on the Internet, with food. The popular crowd at his high school becomes a morbid chorus of cheerleaders, taking bets and urging him on. At the same time they pull Butter into their circle and he feels like he has friends for the first time.
You nailed the cruelty of high school experience. How did you research this type of behavior for the book, Butter?
To be honest, I didn’t have to research so much as just try to write reality – the reality I remember from my own experience in school and the reality I still see around me today. I don’t think cruelty begins and ends with high school. Some bullies start young, and some never grow out of it. But I do think the hormonal roller coaster of our teenage years amplifies both the cruelty and the emotional response to it.
It seems we have all kinds of anti-bullying initiatives and programs out there, but all too often we hear about children killing themselves because they are cyber bullied. What do you think parents and educators are missing?
I work in TV news, and we cover too many stories of cyber bullying and teen suicide. One common thread in these stories seems to be that parents knew nothing until it was too late. The mother of a girl facing felony charges for cyber bullying in Florida right now told the media she monitored her daughter’s Facebook. I respect that, but it makes me want to ask parents: Do you also monitor their Tumblr? Their Twitter? Instagram? Google+? And a dozen other possible social media sites you’ve never even heard of? Do you know how to find deleted posts on all of these accounts?
It’s too much to keep track of. Parents can’t possibly police the entire internet. At some point, we have to hope our kids will come to us. But that’s the problem. According to a survey in the news recently, only about 25% of kids and teens having trouble with their peers will turn to an adult for help. I wish I knew how to fix this. I think the best we can do is talk to teens, get them talking to each other, and act on hunches when we suspect something might be wrong. I do think the rising tide of bullying awareness is going a long way toward getting the conversation going!
There are many painful moments in Butter but the end has such a strong feeling of hope. What was the most challenging part to write? Why?
I actually think the hope was the hardest part to write. I spend so many hours every week writing facts, and the facts are often so hopeless, that it’s far too easy to write about the tough stuff. But it’s very important to me to have hope in my fiction. I believe hope is everywhere, and happy endings abound in real life. They just don’t get the same kind of attention in the media. So I would say I’m a little less practiced at writing the hopeful stuff, but I make it mandatory in my books, because as much as bullying and suicide and obesity and other tough issues are all part of our reality, so is the hope.
What do you hope young readers will take away after reading Butter?
I never set out to send any kind of message. I just wanted to tell this character’s story. So I was kind of flabbergasted when I started getting emails from teens telling me about their struggles with weight, their fears about high school, and their determination to speak up when they see cruelty. It has been a wonderful surprise to hear that young readers are taking something personal away from the book, but above all, I just hope readers of all ages will walk away feeling like they’ve been told a good story. That’s the most I could ever ask for.
Who are some of your favorite authors and who are you reading right now?
Judy Blume, for telling the truth in her books, even when it was controversial to do so. She paved the way for the rest of us who want to write about real teen experiences. JK Rowling, for reminding me, when I was in college, that I love books for kids and teens so much better than all that stuffy grown up collegiate stuff. And Kurt Vonnegut, for making me laugh out loud and really think in the very same breath.
Right now, I’m reading Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. I’m on a dragon kick!
Lange’s newest book, Dead End was just recently published.
-Kris Hickey, currently reading Allegiant by Veronica Roth