Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes - Chris Crutcher

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes has been challenged in several states for it's language, "pornographic and sexual content" and negative portrayal of Christians.  While the book does have a fair amount of profanity, its "pornographic and sexual content" was hardly worth mentioning, and its "negative portrayal of Christianity" had a purpose that becomes evident as the book progresses.

Summary:  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 that Eric has ever known -- sits silent in a hospital.  Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding before it's dark current pull us both under.  (Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  Many banned children’s and young adult books have one thing in common; they have the potential to influence children to think for themselves, to make difficult choices, to question authority and even, occasionally, to stand up to it.  Add that to some profanity and a few minor sexual comments that are found in this book and I can see how certain people would get very upset. 

From my perspective, this complicated issue is very simple.  This world can be wonderful, but it can also be cruel and complicated.   At some point our children are going to have to come to terms with reality.  Every book can’t end happily ever after and they can’t all be sugar coated.  If they were, we certainly wouldn’t learn anything from them.  Part of our job as parents is to teach our children to think for themselves, rather than be swayed by popular opinion.  Yes, we want to protect our children.  Yes, we want them to stay sweet and innocent, but I would rather have my children discover and question their beliefs when I am there to guide them.  I would rather read this book and talk about it with them, than have them pretend that bad things don’t exist.  

There is a lot to love about Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  It has received several awards, most notably the American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults.  I instantly related to Eric's insecurities and Sarah Byrne's tough facade, and I think that many young adults might see something of themselves tucked away inside these characters, their complicated lives, and their relationship.  Eric's concern for Sarah Byrnes's well being and his dedication to her was inspiring.  As the story progressed, it was far more suspenseful than I expected and taught a strong moral lesson about friendship, compassion, and the power of family.    

I adored Eric’s Contemporary American Thought class.  The teacher, Ms. Lemry, did her best to encourage honest and rational discussion about relevant and controversial issues (e.g. abortion, suicide, and religion).   It forced me to examine my own beliefs and defend them, at least inwardly.  It would be an excellent choice for book club, as long as your book club is capable of discussing hot-button issues without throwing things.  Do I agree with every argument presented in the class?  Heck no!  But I do wish we had more conversations like that going on, and more people who are willing to examine both sides an argument and engage in thoughtful, respectful discussion about the issues that society finds most troubling.

I think that one of the most controversial aspects of this book was its initial representation and vilification of Christianity.  One of the characters, Mark, is an evangelical Christian, but not an accurate representation of what Christianity purports to be.  The majority of the book makes him look like a judgmental, hypocritical jerk, and a more compassionate representation of Christian beliefs doesn’t really enter the picture until much later in the story.

While plenty of books on the YA shelves are meaningless drivel, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is not one of them.  It is a powerfully riveting and emotional story that grabs hold and it doesn’t let go. 

Sidenote: Here is an excerpt from a letter the author wrote to a school district that was contemplating banning his book:
I'm not a person who believes all books are worthwhile. There are lots of books I wouldn't recommend. But I'm only smart enough to choose for myself, not for everyone. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, one of the tough things about standing up against censorship is some of the (crap) you have to stand up for. (And yes, I edited myself - or Mr. Vonnegut - in deference to the complainant.) But I have been an educator and I have been a therapist for families in particularly tough circumstances and the characters and situations in this book come from real places. When we ban books about kids who feel marginalized and diminished, we ban the kids themselves. We say, "Your life is not worth examining, not worth being brought into the light. You don't matter." I would want to think long and hard before allowing my school to be perceived in that way.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars 

For the sensitive reader:  A fair amount of profanity, some mild sexual comments, and discussion of controversial issues.

Sum it up:  Much better, and much more, than I expected.  An important and relevant read.


Maggie Shippentower said...

I thought this book was okay. I am in college had to find a book and came along to this book. I started reading it more and came to my interest. I started to think about what issues my son going to face when he gets to high school. I am going to have to prepare. This book opened my eyes to think these teens have lots of issues and need to learn to be there for them. I rate this book a 4stars. I incourage more teens to read this good book.

Anonymous said...

u dumb

MindySue said...

Could be. Or perhaps you're just upset that I won't write your book report for you?


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