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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher

17 May

2003 edition, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-009489-3

Plot Summary: Eric and Sarah Byrnes have been friends since they were little. Originally connected by their outcast status – Sarah is disfigured by burn scars that she allegedly sustained as a toddler when she pulled a pot of boiling spaghetti on herself, Eric was overweight – they seem to be growing apart as Eric develops more of a social life. He tried to stay overweight for her so that she wouldn’t think she’d leave him, but he joined the swim team and has slimmed down despite his best efforts. One day, Sarah Byrnes becomes catatonic in class and is sent to a hospital where she refuses to speak. Eric visits her every day and tries to talk to her. He knows she is hiding something, but Sarah Byrnes – one of the toughest, angriest girls he’s ever met – is not ready to let him get that close. Sarah Byrnes’ dad is looming closer and closer, though, and Eric has a very bad feeling about him. Can Eric get Sarah Byrnes the help she needs before her father gets to them both?

Critical Evaluation: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes tackles a lot of difficult ground: child abuse, neglect and abandonment; obesity; Christian fundamentalism gone wild, and abortion are but some of the ground he covers. Chris Crutcher is not afraid to take his characters to places that may be uncomfortable to talk about, but necessary to be aware of. His characters are realistic and their dialogue, while heavy-handed at points, keeps the pages turning. He tackles inner angst and rage well and his voice will speak to teens. Each of the main characters spend the book going through a journey of self-discovery and learning to find his or her own voice – something that every teen should know how to do.

Reviews: School Library Journal: (starred review) : A masterpiece.”

Publishers Weekly: (starred review) “[A] transcendent story of love, loyalty and courage…Superb plotting, extraordinary characters and crackling narrative…unforgettable.”

Kirkus Reviews: (pointered review): “Pulse-pounding, on both visceral and intellectual levels—a wild, brutal ride.”

Awards: California Young Reader Medal – Young Adult (1997); Joan Fassler Memorial Book Award for Best Medical-Related Children’s Book (1995); American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults (1994); South Dakota LIbrary Association Young Adult Reading Program (YARP) Best Books (1994); School Library Journal Best Book (1993); Number three on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2009; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; Kirkus Reviews Choice; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year; Margaret A. Edwards Award.
 
Author Information: Chris Crutcher is a YA author and family therapist. He is among the most challenged YA authors, with 35 challenges between 1995 and 2011. His author website includes a list of book challenges, information about his books, teaching and reading guides for educators, contact and school visit information, an FAQ, and extras including printable posters.
 
Reader’s Annotation: When Eric’s best friend Sarah Byrnes stops speaking, it’s up to him to find out what her secret really is, before it’s too late.
 
Genre: Bullying/abuse. Subgenres: Realistic fiction, friendship, family.
 
Booktalking Ideas: Eric wants to keep his friend Sarah Byrnes’ friendship so badly that he’s willing to do almost anything – even try to stay fat. What are you willing to do to keep your friends? Sarah Byrnes doesn’t trust Eric enough to tell him her deepest secret, but Eric needs to get through to her in order to help her. Have you ever worried about losing a friend by helping them?
 
Reading Level/Interest Age: 13+
 
Challenge Issues/Defense: Abuse, bullying, religion, abortion. Defense: The story is like real life, and these themes all come up on a daily basis. Crutcher’s experience as a family therapist helps infuse the book with a realistic flavor that will get teens talking and perhaps opening up about similar experiences they are aware of or going through in their own lives. 
 
Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?
This book came highly recommended to me by a close friend, a children’s librarian. I was very glad to read it.
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