Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes - Yes, this is why Chris Crutcher is the Man!

1. Bibliography: Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: First Harper Tempest, 1993.

2. Genre and Awards:

Young Adult/Many other things, I am having trouble categorizing, please read on!
ALA Best Book for YA
SLJ Best Book for YA
American Booksellers Pick of the List
California Young Reader Medalist
1995 Joan Fassler Memorial Book Award
ALA Best of the Best Books for YA
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
1994 South Dakota YARP Best Books
Nominee 1995-1996 Iowa Teen Award
Nominee 1995-1996 SC YA Book Award
Nominee 1996 Young Reader's Choice Award
Nominee 1996-1997 ILF Rosie

3. Synopsis:

Eric Calhoune was a fat kid who didn’t have any friends. His only friend, Sarah Byrnes is disfigured from an accident in her childhood. The two of them bonded, and Eric is willing to “stay fat” to maintain her friendship. Eric begins swimming, and gains the nickname Moby. As he slims down, he worries that he might jeopardize his friendship with her. At the opening of the novel, Sarah Byrnes (she requires that everyone address her by both names to avoid the obvious link between her disfigurement and her name) is in a mental hospital. As things begin unraveling and unveiling themselves, Eric finds himself embroiled in a battle for Sarah Byrnes’s safety, the safety of his family and his own sanity. By the way, all this goes on as Eric is trying to negotiate friendships, the swim team, and his Contemporary American Thought class.

4. Characters:
Eric Calhoune is one of the most believable characters I have read in a long time. Eric is being raised by his mom, and his real father has never been in the picture. His problem is as he begins to fit in, he risks loosing his friendship with Sarah Byrnes, the toughest girl he has ever known. Eric is a wonderfully developed character who narrates this divine story.

Sarah Byrnes is a girl who was disfigured when she was three years old. She has an abusive father and is in a mental institution. The issues with Sarah Byrnes may upset many young readers, but Crutcher’s sensitive portrayal of her is incredibly endearing and will leave a mark on anyone brave enough to read this novel.

There are many important ancillary characters, like Jody, Eric’s love interest, Mark Brittan, Eric’s competition on the swim team, Dale Thornton (a super loser, yet the person who seems to know the most about Sarah Byrnes), and his friend, Ellerby, who is dealing with religion in his own way.

Also, the adults in this novel are dynamic, interesting, important characters. Mrs. Lemry, Eric’s swimming coach is an important advocate for Eric and ends up playing a pivotal role in the novel. Eric’s mother and her boyfriend, Carver, are people who seem to genuinely care about Eric and his friends, and also are extremely dynamic characters who propel the novel to its incredible conclusion.

5. Plot:
It is really complicated! I don’t want to give too much away, so I am not sure what to say—because you need to read this book! Eric was a friendless, overweight adolescent whose only friend was the disfigured Sarah Byrnes. The narration is told in flashbacks of their junior high experience. As Eric moves on, joining the swim team and making new friends, he continues to eat so he can maintain his friendship with Sarah Byrnes. There is a lot more, but I don’t want to give it away. Trust me. Read this book!

6. Needs of adolescents:
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a tough book. It addresses unthinkable child abuse, teen sexuality, abortion, religion, friendship, isolation and identity—and that’s just the beginning. This book should be used for young men and women who are trying to find themselves in the sea of dichotomies that is high school. This book will make everyone who reads it question their own loyalty and examine their relationships.

7. Possible Classroom Uses:

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes would probably best be utilized with high school students. It would be great as a small group or individual reading. It should be handled with care because of the sensitive nature of the topics addressed, particularly the abuse, sexuality, abortion, suicide and religious topics addressed in the book. However, Crutcher masterfully weaves all of these pressing issues into a novel about loyalty, love and friendship. I think many high school students would appreciate the honesty and tenderness in this book.

8. Appropriate Age Range

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a book designed for 10-12 grades.

9. Personal Reactions:
This book is the reason why I got so excited that Chris Crutcher is going to be speaking at the University of Arkansas. Yes Deadline is an incredible book. But in this book, Crutcher explores such raw and tender issues with so much realism it is impossible not to cheer for Eric and for Sarah Byrnes. It is a love story of friendship and tenderness amidst pain and suffering that is unbearable to think about. Needless to say, this is the best book I have read in a long time, and yes, I have a crush on Chris Crutcher, not matter what he looks like, because anyone who can make me believe in Moby, Sarah Byrnes and their tale deserves my devotion.


Grace said...

Ok, So I was attempting to decide on book #7 for my project and your rave reviews in class and your rave reviews here may have just made the decision for me. If you think this book tops Deadline, then I should probably read it because I thought Deadline was the best book I have read so far for this project. Your blog looks great and you should be proud of yourself for being so far ahead of everyone else! Where do you find the time?

ps--I'm not going to read your reveiw for Bud, Not Buddy just yet because it is on my list of books to read.

ljennings said...

Hey Katy! I really enjoyed your review of this book :) I just ordered it the other day so I am looking forward to reading it and then we can discuss! (which I know is your fave...). It definitely sounds like it has a lot of "Crutcheresk" issues involved in it and I am looking forward to exploring another one of his works. If it is up there with "Deadline" then I am sure it is awesome.

Kelli Cole said...

I love this post. I haven't read this and probably won't be able to for a while. But, you are the reason I've started a book list. I really enjoy your enthusiasm and I can't wait to read this book. You're awesome!

Katy H said...

This book sounds like a real winner. I love the plot line, and I think it could be useful to any kid who struggles with being the outcast in school. You said that this addresses some pretty tough issues, which might prevent it from being taught in class, and that's too bad. I am looking forward to reading about the dynamics of their relationship as the two kids who don't fit in. This is a perspective that I haven't had much experience with, and I think I could probably grow as a person and a teacher by reading a story like this one. It's another one on my "to read" list. Thank you for introducing me to it!