Book Review Blog, Episode Four – Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.
Book Summary: Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes form a friendship in middle school based on both of them being outcasts; Eric being fat and Sarah Byrnes having severe burn scars over her hands, arms, and face. Now it’s the second semester of their senior year and Sarah Byrnes is catatonic in Sacred Heart Hospital’s mental ward. One of the nurses tells Eric that talking to her may be the only way to bring her out of her current state. Eric has to do this while attending varsity swim practice and classes. The story focuses on Eric’s Contemporary American Thoughts class, taught by his swim coach, Ms. Lemry. Some of his classmates include his best guy friend and swimming teammate, Steve Ellerby, teammate and rival, Mark Brittain, and Eric’s crush, Jody Mueller, who is also Mark’s girlfriend. The class, referred to as CAT, focuses on controversial topics, like abortion. Eric and Steve use CAT and swim practice to antagonize Mark throughout the story (the class and what happens in it is a big factor in the story). During Eric’s visits with Sarah Byrnes, another nurse tells him to try and find another familiar face to help her pull through, and this begins Eric’s journey to uncover how Sarah Brynes really got all of her scars.
APA Reference: Crutcher, C. (2003). Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: HarperTempest.
Impressions: The story is compelling, and I ended up reading it in a day. The pacing is good with flashbacks and backstory interspersed with the present. Since the book is so dialogue heavy in CAT, it reminded me of Kevin Smith’s early films (Clerks, Mallrats, etc.), and I think that’s one reason I enjoyed it. It felt like Crutcher definitely inserted his own opinions into his main characters, specifically in regards to abortion, Christianity, and secularism in school. One part I really enjoyed was Steve’s father standing up for him and Eric to an assistant principal who’s had it out for Eric since middle school. Overall a great book that I highly recommend.
Professional Review: Bushman, John H., and Kay Parks Bushman. “Books for the Teenage Reader: The Tradition Continues: New Releases from Well-Known Authors.” The English Journal, vol. 83, no. 1, 1994, pp. 78–80. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/820966.
…Typical of other Crutcher books, readers will be “told the truth” about decisions, consequences, fear, and pain in another tightly woven plot which addresses issues of abuse, abortion, commitment, and friendship. Complementing these serious issues, Crutcher, as usual, injects wonderful humor as well as positive adult role models, displaying hope and coping skills necessary for dealing with tough, realistic situations.
Library Uses: This book can be used for reluctant readers, books with athletes, and controversial topics.