Plot Summary: In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Crutcher joins two teens together as friends, their connection? They both have physical characteristics that make them outsiders and the recipients of much ridicule and bullying. Sarah Byres’ face and hands are grotesquely disfigured by a burn she suffered at three years old. She insists on being called Sarah Byrnes, not just Sarah, to cut off at the pass any comment a person might make about the irony of her last name. Eric Calhoune, called Moby by most of the kids at school, was extremely overweight, hence the nickname Moby, until he joined the swim team where he started to lose weight.
Early in the book we find Eric in a metal ward with Sarah Byrnes attempting to talk to Sarah and bring her out of her catatonic state. The book travels back and forth in time between the present, Sarah’s current state of not looking at or speaking to anyone, and past interactions between Sarah and Eric. As the story unfolds between Sarah and Eric and a handful of their high school classmates in a Contemporary American Thought class the book addresses issues of religious beliefs, abortion, child abuse, and suicide. While these issues are hugely significant to the story, at its core the book is about friendship and love.
Critical Evaluation: Told with humor and sensitivity, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a tale of strength, loyalty, and deep commitment. Through Eric’s voice, readers deeply feel both his outsider status and his wit, charm, and kindness. Readers watch him make mistakes, take chances, and work to resolve problems that are perhaps too big for a teen to resolve on his own. Crutcher, true to his style, manages to get inside a teen’s head and bring his readers there with him. The excellence of this novel has to do with the fact that Crutcher brings his writing’s signature honesty and authenticity to a compelling, emotional, dramatic and suspenseful story. The various other young adults: a former bully, an evangelical Christian, and others have depth and complexity not often seen in the supporting cast. Do to its richness and multiple layers of meaning, this book lends itself well to class or book group discussions. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has earned multiple honors, examples are: 1994 ALA Best Book For Young Adults, 1997 California Young Reader Medal, and 1993 School Library Journal Best Book.
Reader’s Annotation: High school students Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes have been friends since they were young, connected by Eric’s obesity and Sarah’s disfigurement. During their senior year, dramatic events stir up their lives and challenge them as they have never been challenged before.
Information about the Author: Chris Crutcher is one of the most challenged authors of the past decade. He wears his challenges as a badge of honor. In fact, he says, “There’s only one thing to say to the censors: Shut up.”
Chris Crutcher was born in July of 1946, and has managed to accomplish a lot, and influence the lives of thousands of young adults, in his 65 years. He started his career as a teacher, he then went on to direct a “last chance” alternative school in Oakland, CA. After 10 years in Oakland, Crutcher moved to Spokane, WA, wrote his first book, and became a child and family therapist and child protection advocate. Chris Crutcher has been very busy having a positive impact on the lives of young people for the past several decades.
He wrote his first book in the early 1980’s and written a total of 14 books. He has been a very popular YA realistic fiction author since the 1980s, and he has won several awards and honors for his books. His writing is deeply authentic and often revolves around sports, in some way. Crutcher himself played sports in his youth. In 2000, Crutcher won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, for his “body of work,” and in 1998, he won the National Intellectual Freedom Award and the ALAN Award, (Crutccher, n.d.).
Crutcher still works as a therapist and child protection advocate. He is also a columnist, a public speaker and he recently started blogging for The Huffington Post. Check out his Huffington Post blog here.
Genres: Contemporary Life, Issues, Realistic Fiction
Subgenres/Themes: Contemporary Life: Sports; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse
Topics Covered: Child Abuse, Friendship, Sports, Abortion, Religious Beliefs, Bullying
Curriculum Ties: Discussions of diversity: racial, ability, physical, religious; dealing with abuse; everyday heroes; stereotypes and assumptions (from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel )
- Discuss dealing with a friend in a catatonic state
- Discuss what friendship means
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 – 19
Challenge Issues: Discussions of abortion, an attempted suicide, premarital sex, a Christian character is portrayed as hypocritical. In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies. Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several honors, three are mentioned above.
Why is this book included? First off, Chris Crutcher is a stalwart in young adult literature, and any complete collection should include his books. Also, this book, in its 304 pages, manages to raise many important issues for teens. And, interestingly, several of these issues are discussed among the teens, so there are several perspectives represented. A critically praised, awarded, and honored book, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a classic young adult novel deserving of shelf space in any young adult collection.
Crutcher, C. (n.d.). Biography. Retrieved from http://www.chriscrutcher.com/biography.html
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/user/schne138/resourcepacket/index.html