Synopsis:


Staying_Fat.jpg

Eric Calhoune, a high school senior, narrates this novel through a stream of consciousness writing style as he frequently flip-flops back between the past and the present. Eric has been living his life as an outsider because of his

obesity and teams up with Sarah Brynes, a girl severely burned facially, to deal with the everyday perils of typical teenage outcasts. Early on, Sarah Byrnes is committed to the Psychiatric Ward of a hospital because she has withdrawn from the world. Despite Eric's busy schedule, success in school, swimming, losing weight, which causes their relationship to distance one another, Eric still chooses to spend his time visiting his long-time friend at the hospital. Through various interactions with other characters, Eric eventually finds out that Sarah Brynes’ face was burned intentionally by her abusive father when she was a young child. Could this be the cause of Sarah's sudden withdrawal from life?


Mrs. Lemry’s Contemporary American Thought class discusses abortion and the various characters’ personalities and perceptions blend. They question the quality of life after birth of some people in the world, a key concept in understanding Sarah Bern's problems. Eric finds out from the girlfriend of Mark Brittain, a model student who preaches the Bible, has fathered a child and pressured her to have an abortion against her will. Additionally, Eric confirms from Sarah that her father did indeed intentionally burn her face as a young child as she watched him attempt to murder her mother. Eric is unsure about what to do with the knowledge of Jody’s personal struggle with the abortion and the knowledge of Sarah Brynes’ child abuse story. Then, after Jody reveals to the class that Mark Brittain is a phony and the knowledge of the abortion, Mark’s perfectly crafted character is shattered as he attempts a suicide. Meanwhile, Eric tells Mrs. Lemry about Sarah Byrnes’ dilemma and they decide to have her run away from the hospital and stay at Lemry’s house until they can safely convict her dangerous father.

Mrs. Lemry’s class is linked to Mark Brittian’s suicide attempt and the class is canceled for reassessment. At the news of Sarah Byrne’s running away from the hospital, her father begins to threaten Eric about her whereabouts. Mrs. Lemry and Sarah Byrnes decide to try to find Sarah’s birth mother to help testify against her father in court. Then, on the drive home from swim practice, Eric is attacked by Mr. Byrnes as he attempts to severely harm Eric. Eric gets away with only a dangerous cut and seeks help.

While Eric recovers in the hospital, the media jumps on the story about an abusive father injuring a kid and looking to possibly harm his daughter. Meanwhile, Eric’s mother’s boyfriend, who isn’t mentioned much in the novel besides briefly saying that Eric doesn’t like him, turns out to be the unlikely hero who captures Mr. Brynes and takes his jail time for it willingly and Eric gains respect for him. And, as the story ends, Sarah Brynes convicts her father and then, for the first time, gains a family when she is adopted by Mrs. Lemry. From the Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Resource Packet by Beth Schneider


Quotes from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes:

“From a distance,' he says, 'my car looks just like every other car on the freeway, and Sarah Byrnes looks just like the rest of us. And if she's going to get help, she'll get it from herself or she'll get it from us. Let me tell you why I brought this up. Because the other day when I saw how hard it was for Mobe to go to the hospital to see her, I was embarrassed that I didn't know her better, that I ever laughed at one joke about her. I was embarrassed that I let some kid go to school with me for twelve years and turned my back on pain that must be unbearable. I was embarrassed that I haven't found a way to include her somehow the way Mobe has.'

Jesus. I feel tears welling up, and I see them running down Ellerby's cheeks. Lemry better get a handle on this class before it turns into some kind of therapy group.

So,' Lemry says quietly, 'your subject will be the juxtaposition of man and God in the universe?'

Ellerby shakes his head. 'My subject will be shame.” - Steve Ellerby

---

"If [Sarah's] going to get help, she'll get it from herself or she'll get it from us. Let me tell you why I brought this up. Because the other day when I saw how hard it was for Mobe to go to the hospital to see her, I was embarrassed that I didn't know her better, that I ever laughed at one joke about her. I was embarrassed that I let some kid go to school with me for twelve years and turned my back on pain that must be unbearable. I was embarrassed that I haven't found a way to include her some how the way Moby has. - Steve Ellerby

--

In truth, the only reason I don't allow people up close and personal with my emotional self is that I hate to be embarrassed. I can't afford it. I spent years being embarrassed because I was fat and clumsy and afraid. - Eric “Mobe” Calhoune

--

I told myself the kind of friendship I had with Sarah Byrnes- the tough kind- was better. I think most of us tell ourselves we don't want what we can't have just to make life more bearable. - Eric “Mobe” Calhoune


--

To tell you the truth, the people who seem willing to fight to the death, or who are willing to carry a poster in front of a Deaconess Clinic, are politically against giving them (poor people or those who can't afford a baby) anything. The second they're born, they're on their own. - Steve Ellerby


For Teachers:

From a teacher's perspective, the book’s ability to cover so many controversial topics, in just under three hundred pages, makes for an educationally double-edged-sword; so many interesting topics packed into this quick read offer a great educational experience, but they could also potentially confuse less engaged readers. Apart from confusing students, the controversial topics could cause the whistle blowers to come storming down to your administrator’s office with their torches-in-hands.


Abortion and Religion are two topics not many teachers seek to tangle with, and in a somewhat typical Chris Crutcher fashion, this novel pulls no punches on either subject. Abortion is dealt with, in the novel, as a topic of debate in Eric's High School Contemporary American Issues class. The debate reaches a high when Jody, a devout Christian girl, announces she's had an abortion. Crutcher’s decision to present Jody as strict moral and religious character harboring a dark secret such as an abortion could make teaching this book a difficult sell to more religious school districts. Religion may be the most controversial issue this book offers. Parents, students, and administrators could easily be offended by characters such as Ellerby, Mobe’s best friend. Ellerby is often accused by Brittain, the strict conservative Christian, of being “blasphemous". The most heated scene in the book occurs when Ellerby replies to Brittain's pro-life speech against abortion.


I've spent a little time locked in my room with a bible, and I think you're more full of shit than Moby does. Certainly I'm for birth control before abortion, but I'll tell you one thing, Brittain, if God kept as close an eye on us as you say he does, and if he felt the need to intervene in daily human problems, he'd put on his steel-toed boots and come down here and kick your butt for making him look like a mean-spirited, unforgiving ayatollah. - Brittain


Also, this book may not be appropriate for middle school reading due to the mature elements presented in the book. However, Crutcher would argue that the issues he presents in the book are just the common everyday experience of young adults; he doesn't leave anything out (see multimedia section). Despite some disapproval of the book by concerned parents, the language shouldn't be much of an issue. There are only about four to six swear words used over the whole book. The F-bomb is dropped once but in a tasteful manner.


After working through the controversies Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnespresents, the lessons delivered by the book are priceless. Readers will ultimately learn that individuals should be accountable for their own actions and that we can each make a difference in our own lives and those of others if we would reach out to each other. From the Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Resource Packet by Beth Schneider

https://www.msu.edu/~schne138/resourcepacket/index.html