Staying Fat Portrays Valuable Lessons Despite Controversy

Chris Crutcher. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1993.

[I]f [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 Mobe has. -Ellerby

Eric Calhoune, known to some as Mobe, tells the story of his childhood friendship with Sarah Byrnes, who together combat the popular kids, jocks, and bullies with their underground newspaper creation: Crispy Pork Rinds. Written by the fat kid and the tragically burn-scarred girl, the newspaper helps the two vent towards their unfriendly peers. But what happens when they enter high school and Eric loses his weight? How can he "stay fat" for Sarah Byrnes when she needs him more than ever before?

Readers find Eric with many issues on his plate. His new found identity as an attractive and intelligent young man pits him against his rival, Mark Brittain. With a new girlfriend, drama in Contemporary American Thought class, and increased competition in swimming, the friendship gap between Eric and Sarah is widening. This coming of age story is action packed yet remains incredibly easy to relate to for young adult readers.

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 (135)

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 Byrnes presents, 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.

Favorite Quotes

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 Calhoune (77)

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 Calhoune (118)

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. - Ellerby (130)

About Chris Crutcher

Crutcher.JPGBorn July 17th, 1946 in Dayton Ohio. Chris Crutcher is the young adult author responsible for several highly praised and sometimes banned novels and collection of short stories. His body of work, all of which were selected as ALA Best Books for Young Adults, include titles such as: Whale Talk, Ironman, Athletic Shorts, Stotan!, and King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. While much of his subject material comes from his work as a family therapist and child protection specialist, he doesn't feel shy about working his often troubled stories of his own youth into a work of fiction. He lives in Spokane Washington.

Growing up was a challenge for Chris Crutcher, due in part to his older brother, who felt the need to have Chris do things because they were “neat”. While most of the young adults Crutcher writes about are strong willed, highly educated, and athletic; Chris Crutcher seemed to fall short in athletics, making the right choices, and thinking he could cut it as a boy scout. But life wasn’t always bad for Chris Crutcher. He did manage to win a small trophy for his attendance in Sunday school, which his brother dropped moments after it arrived home. Whether it was the BB to the head (another of his brother's neat ideas), or the grace of Esus (Jesus’ one eyed smarter older brother), Chris Crutcher shows readers that growing up is hard, but if he can do it, anyone can.

Photograph courtesy of Chris Crutcher. Information provided from King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Biography, by Chris Crutcher.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Crutcher discusses the controversy behind his books at San Mateo High School.

Audio recording of an interview of Chris Crutcher pertaining to his novel Athletic Shorts.

Additional Resources:


About the Author and Other Works

Critical Response

Teaching Materials

  • Web English Teacher - Lesson plans for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and other Chris Crutcher books. Includes links to other authors and eNotes for many other books.
  • Discussion questions for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
  • A Guide to Teaching Challenged and Banned Books - Featuring the Novels of Chris Crutcher - PDF

Related Resources

  • Child Abuse - A link to the Michigan Support for Child Abuse and Child Welfare site.
  • Childhood Obesity - A link to an extensive survey pertaining to childhood obesity in Michigan.

Page by:
Paul Golm
Travis Forbear
David Wilson
Jack Bice
See also: Persepolis, Persepolis 2