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Sarah Byrnes exposes all

Chris Crutcher, author of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

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Chris Crutcher is an Idahoan, not by birth, but because he grew up in Cascade, Idaho—a mere hour-and-a-half from the Boise valley. A natural-born trouble-maker, he has a great imagination and has worked as a family and child therapist; this is what he draws on when writing his novels. Though sometimes painfully so, the stories he tells are real and honest about what that teenagers face today.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
covered some very sensitive issues, including child and spouse abuse, being “different,” popularity, religion, doing things you believe in, bending the law, emotionally disturbed children, abortion, unmarried sex, corrupted/biased figures of power, and student-teacher relationships—to name a few. Much of the novel was excruciatingly honest about real-life situations. Many people find that it is often easier to just pretend such issues do not exist so they won’t feel obligated to do anything about situations that do not personally concern them. This book forces them upon the reader.

This “looking-the-other-way” is both mental and physical. For example, Sarah’s burned face makes it difficult for her peers to look at her—Steve Ellerby admitted that he was never mean to Sarah Byrnes, but he also never really spoke to her or looked her in the face. Sarah herself tried to get Mark Brittain to look at her, but he had difficulty doing so. Just like the teens in the book, we often do not look people with disfigurements in the eye. This is for an infinite number of reasons: fear that they will demand what you are looking at, fear of making them feel different, not wanting to think about how such disfigurements came about, only wanting to see the beautiful things, feeling ashamed because you are not scarred in such a way, etc. The list goes on. Through this book, readers get a glimpse into what it might feel like to be one of these people, and how it feels to be shunned.

Reading such things can invoke a strong feeling of shame for being petty and vain about appearance. It also has the ability to encourage readers to forget about such paltry worries. Unfortunately for Sarah, she was scarred both mentally and physically with an abusive father, almost nonexistent mother, and only two friends for most of her life. Not many people would ever be able to get past such an ordeal. It can be hard to imagine such suffering when it isn’t present in our daily lives, but it is also easy to forget that some teens do in fact face these issues (though not all on such a grand scale). It is hard for some to just work up the courage to go to school every day and face their peers.

This book is intriguing not just because the characters are easy to attach to, but also because it offers true insight into teenagers’ lives. There are an incredible amount of issues presented in three-hundred pages, but that is the reality of what often goes on at school that kids don’t tell their parents at home. The vastness of the issue-spectrum also makes it easy for teenagers to relate to: there’s something in it for everyone. They’ve all met the girl who accidentally got pregnant, the incredibly judgmental kid, the outcast, the chubby one, the jock, the artist—or maybe they are one of those kids. And this ability to relate and feel like something hits home is what’s going to get kids to keep turning the pages.


  • Barbara Friedman 5 years ago

    This article doesn't avoid the issues confronted by many teens these days, but instead uses the characters in the book to show how we can all gain greater understanding of those issues and the people who are dealing with them on a day-to-day basis. As one who worked with teens for many years in my career, I still found new insights in the writer's analysis of this book.

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