Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

When Sarah Byrnes was three years old, her condition became synonymous with her surname. Her face and hands were badly burned in a mysterious accident, and her father refused to allow reconstructive surgery. She developed a suit of cold, stainless steel armor to defend herself against the taunts of a world insensitive to her pain. You enter into Sarah Byrnes's world on her terms, or you don't enter.

Enter Eric Calhoune--Moby to his friends. Eric passed through his early years on a steady diet of Oreos and Twinkies and root beer floats, and he sports the girth to prove it. Because of their "terminal uglies," he and Sarah Byrnes have become true masters in the art of underhanded revenge directed at anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities.

When Eric turns out for the high school swimming team, he begins to shed layers of extra poundage. Fearing the loss of the one friendship he treasures, he gorges to "stay fat for Sarah Byrnes," who discovers his motive and threatens to beat him more senseless than she thinks he already is. Then the truth of Sarah Byrnes's horrific past finally catches up with her. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a darkly funny, suspenseful novel about friendship, fear, and making the best of a bad situation. Once again Chris Crutcher slaps us in the face with compelling questions that demand dignified answers. (from

I had never heard of Chris Crutcher until last Friday when I read the Retro Friday Review meme over at Angieville. What a book! I am constantly surprised by YA fiction and how adult it can be and I shouldn't because I do know better. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes deals with issues such as child and spousal abuse, intolerance, religion, teenage pregnancy, and abortion. The most surprising aspect of this book to me though was the humor; for a YA novel that is heavy on close-to-home social issues, the narration is quite funny without losing any of his earnestness (?) and dignity. Eric is a total smart ass and I loved it. I found myself last night reading passages out loud to my husband who was trying to watch TV but was patient enough to pause the dvr and listen, and then laugh out loud with me. Read this paragraph from page 52, where Eric is talking about Crispy Pork Rinds, an underground newspaper he and Sarah Byrnes wrote, printed, and distributed in their high school:

Anyway, Sarah Byrnes and I had decided to lay off [bully Dale Thornton] for a while - at least until our wounds healed - and concentrate on an expose about [Vice-Principal Mautz]'s two-headed son, the outcome of his clandestine sexual foray with a group of particularly brutal aliens one night several years back when he was wigged out on cocaine. According to our meticulously researched story, whenever Mautz came up short on new ways to treat kids astonishingly, he consulted with Huey-Dewey (one name for each head), whom he kept locked in an earth cellar behind his house.

When I read that review last week, I got a feeling that I would want my own copy of it. I tried to get one from a Borders in Annapolis but they were out last weekend so I hied my heinie over to my local library Monday morning because I couldn't wait. I've now got my own coming to me in the mail and I'm sure this is a book I will reread in the future.


Angiegirl said...

Okay, I just loved the image of you reading favorite passages to your husband and him cracking up. I do the very same thing and it's so awesome when you hit on something that really makes them laugh and they get it. :)

Delighted you read and loved and bought your own copy of this awesome book.

Jen said...

I know, right? I also read him the two pages about Ellerby's car. It was just too outrageous to resist :)