5 out of 5 stars
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EATING BULL by Carrie Rubin
Jeremy Harjo Barton, nick-named Eating Bull by his verbally abusive grandfather, is a five-foot-nine-inch, three-hundred-and-ten-pound teenager. He’s a sweet kid, but he’s got a serious weight problem that he feels powerless to correct, even though it’s making his life miserable. Well, more miserable. He and his single mother live with his mean-spirited grandfather in a run-down house in a wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Meanwhile, an insane serial killer who calls himself Darwin, begins stalking and murdering obese people out of a twisted conviction that their weight reflects a lack of willpower that is destroying America. Sue Fort is a public health center nurse, social justice warrior and Jeremy’s case worker. She asks Jeremy to be the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the junk-food industry. Her goal is to raise awareness about what she considers unethical practices designed to addict people to unhealthy foods that ruin their lives. This high-minded plan unfortunately brings Jeremy to Darwin’s obsessive attention and sets all the players on a deadly collision course.
I found Eating Bull an entertaining, thoughtful read. Jeremy is a likable, engaging character and the story of his everyday struggle with his weight makes a good counterpoint to the more extraordinary and sensational serial-killer plot line. Where Jeremy’s tale is agonizingly real and mundane, it’s kept in tension with Darwin’s horrifically dramatic arc, making both more interesting. There are some pretty violent scenes and gross imagery—particularly at the beginning—so be forewarned. If that kind of thing bothers you, you might want to take a pass. In addition to being a health-conscious, coming-of-age, serial-killer thriller, Eating Bull also has elements of mystery. Darwin’s true identity is kept secret for most of the book, with tantalizing clues woven throughout to keep you guessing.
The idea of suing the food industry for its role in the current obesity epidemic is a polarizing one. I thought I might not agree with the politics of Eating Bull, but Author Carrie Rubin handles the idea well. The book is not a strident tirade against junk food disguised as a story and Rubin is not claiming that fast food producers are solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. Instead, she does a great job of presenting a complicated and multifaceted issue without oversimplifying or sugar coating it. She manages this by convincingly putting us inside her main characters' heads and letting us watch as they struggle with their own convictions and weaknesses. Although the book alternates between the viewpoints of Jeremy, Sue and Darwin, it does so in an orderly, easy to follow way, changing at chapter breaks. This prevents the kind of disorienting head-hopping sometimes encountered with multiple points of view.
Eating Bull is well-plotted and written. Each of the characters is clearly drawn, there are no wasted scenes or actions and the story incidents and character motivations are pretty plausible and believable. The book is tightly and professionally edited. I didn’t encounter any typos or grammar issues to pull me out of the story or break my connection with the characters. Overall, it’s a fast, satisfying read with a social conscience that's unexpected for the genre. I give Eating Bull 5 out of 5 stars.
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