Literature Annotations


Crutcher, Chris
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes


Genre Novel for Young Adults (216 pp.)
KeywordsAbandonment, Abortion, Adolescence, Adoption, Body Self-Image, Caregivers, Child Abuse, Children, Communication, Depression, Disability, Domestic Violence, Empathy, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, Freedom, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Humor and Illness/Disability, Individuality, Institutionalization, Loneliness, Love, Marital Discord, Mother-Son Relationship, Obesity, Ordinary Life, Parenthood, Professionalism, Psycho-social Medicine, Scapegoating, Society, Trauma
Summary Eric Calhoune is known to his classmates as "Moby" because of the extra weight he has carried since grade school.  Though his mother is young and athletic, he has inherited the body type of the father he's never known.  Now, in high school, the fat is turning to muscle under the discipline of hard swim team workouts.  But that transformation has been slow in coming, since for some time Eric has taken on a private commitment to "stay fat for Sarah Byrnes."  Sarah, whose name is a painful pun, was severely burned as a small child not, as we are given to believe early on, because of an accident, but because of a cruel and crazy father who stuck her face and hands into a woodstove in a moment of rage.  She has lived with him and his threats for some time; that and her disfiguring scars have made her tough, smart, and self-protective.  Eric and she became friends as social outcasts.  Well-matched intellectually and in their subversive wit, they write an underground newspaper together.  Sarah, however, lands suddenly in the hospital, speaking to no one, making eye contact with no one.  Eric faithfully visits her and, per nurses' instructions, keeps up a running one-sided conversation as if she could hear him.  As it turns out, she can.  She is faking catatonia because the hospital is a safe place, and she has chosen this as an escape route from her father.  Eric and a sympathetic coach/teacher go to great lengths to find Sarah's mother-who, it turns out, can't bring herself to be involved in her daughter's life because of her own overwhelming shame.  Ultimately the father is apprehended, and Sarah, nearly eighteen, is taken into the coach's home and adopted for what remains of the childhood she bypassed long before.  In the course of this main plot, other kids enter the story and in various ways come to terms with serious issues in their own lives, some of which are aired in a "Contemporary American Thought" course where no controversy is taboo.

Commentary This novel is full of incident, a lively assortment of believable characters, and varieties of gritty courage.  It's well paced, and even the very hard material is presented in the context of a community of kids and adults who see each other through and "have each other's backs."  The core relationship, the friendship between Eric and Sarah, is a moving story of growing through hardship into trust of each other and trust of self.  The facts of abuse, school policies and administrative practices that sometimes fail to serve students' real needs, and the everyday cruelties of social ostracism among teens are presented with honestly, but the deep vein of humor and faith in friendship offsets those discouraging facts enough to make the book both thought-provoking and entertaining.  The psychology of disfigurement and obesity are skillfully handled as well.  Well worth reading for any young adult, especially for those who find themselves or those they care about on the social margins. 

PublisherGreenwillow Books
Edition1993
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousCalifornia Young Reader Medal - Young Adult, 1997 Joan Fassler Memorial Book Award for Best Medical-Related Children's Book - 1995 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults - 1994 South Dakota Library Association Young Adult Reading Program (YARP) Best Books - 1994 School Library Journal Best Book - 1993
Annotated by McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler
Date of Entry 08/30/12
Last Revised 09/05/12