Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this soon-to be- regular monthly feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned. Today I'll be reviewing Chris Crutcher's controversial, hard hitting YA novel, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, which was published in 1993.
Description: Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend. Now Sarah Byrnes -- the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known -- sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.
Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a heart-wrenching story of loyalty, friendship, and courage. A social outcast in junior high due to his excessive weight, narrator Eric Calhoune found a kindred spirit in Sarah Byrnes, whose face and hands were hideously disfigured in a childhood accident. Now a slim senior thanks to competitive swimming, Eric remains fiercely devoted to Sarah by standing up for her. Unlike Eric who uses physical exercise who fight his bullies, Sarah uses her sharp tongue and whit.
For Sarah to remain silent and committed to a mental ward, is alarming to Eric. Eric is compelled to take action to help her, but quickly finds that he is in over his head. He risks their friendship by breaking his vow of secrecy and enlisting others' aid--help that comes from such unlikely quarters as a former bully, Eric's swim coach and, most surprisingly, his mother's seemingly wimpy boyfriend. Crutcher emphasizes throughout his story that none of the characters are what they appear to be on the surface.
I really enjoyed Eric's voice. Self deprecating and humorous, Eric's voice is memorable. We applaud him for taking on a huge task of helping his friend and standing up for what he believed in. Sarah was a tough character to connect to at first. Her abrasive nature is a defense mechanism she uses to prevent anyone to see her weakness. Her emotional strength is admirable.
Like many of Crutcher books, there are lots of other serious topics addressed from religion to abortion in Eric's philosophy elective. While the discussions are interesting, they do came across a bit heavy handed especially with very conservative characters. Though I appreciated Crutcher allowing teens to talk about important subject matter, I did feel that it slowed down an otherwise tightly paced novel. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy gritty realistic fiction with a hopeful ending.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Why it was challenged: In 2011 the Belleville (WI) School Board decided to keep a book that's required reading for high school freshmen in the curriculum despite a parent's complaint that the book was "pornography" and its language was "pervasively vulgar." Published in 1993, the novel has been read by ninth-grade students at Belleville Hish School for eight years. Source: Marshall University
Words of Caution: After reading Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, I can see why some people would want to challenge it. Topics such as emotional and physical abuse, abortion, suicide, and religion are hard topics to discuss. It's important to remember that Crutcher offers a discussion on these topics, a chance for the characters to exchange their opinions and not attacking on another nor preaching his own ideas. I really don't see how different these topics are from a class doing a debate/speech unit.
As for the "pornography" comment, there is a small scene of Eric flipping to HBO late night and seeing, briefly describing what's going on in an Adult program, but he doesn't indulge in it. He is trying to test and make his mother's boyfriend uncomfortable. There is not much strong language in the book. In fact if you had to rate it like a movie, I think it very much lies on the PG scale. Due to the mature topics discussed in the book, I would recommend this book for Grades 9 and up.
If you like this book try: It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer, Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going