Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Burns, by Chris Crutcher (2003 edition, HarperCollins)

Recommended for ages 13+

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?
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.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has received numerous awards and accolades, among them, the 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, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award.
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.

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