Saturday, February 28, 2009

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: A Greenwillow Book, HarperTempest, 1993.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1994)

Tough Sarah (who has severe burns all over her hands and face) and doughy, frightened Eric (also called Moby, after another famous whale) have been friends for a long time, mainly because no one else wanted to be friends with them. High school changes everything when Eric starts to shed pounds as a result of joining the swim team and Sarah, who turns out to be not so tough, cracks and winds up in a psychiatric hospital.

A friend said in class the other day that talking to your best friend, at the age of 13, about the death of a parent is dumping so much on a kid, even if that kid is your age, that they can't possibly comprehend. Sarah Byrnes has been avoiding doing that most of her life, protecting her friends and also protecting herself. When the truth finally comes out about why she is in the psychiatric hospital and about her scars, she is more exposed than she has ever been and must learn to trust Eric as well as a small handful of adults that he trusts.

When Eric's best friend, who he was secretly afraid of because she's so tough, stops talking and is committed, his life changes dramatically while not changing at all. He still has to go to school, where he is taking a Contemporary American Thought, a class that erupts into dramatic and emotional debate on an almost daily basis. He still has to go to swim practice, where he and Ellerby are stars plotting to take out their fellow teammate. He still has to deal with his mother's new boyfriend, who is about as interesting as cardboard. He still has to deal with being a high school boy who wants to laugh and eat and joke and crush on girls and not talk nonsense to his best friend, who won't respond and possibly can't hear him, in a mental ward everyday. But he does.

This harrowing (yet hilarious at times) story not only touches on, but addresses so many touchy subjects: weight, image, abuse, abortion, religion, suicide, fault, what it means to be a victim and who can be a hero.

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