A Young Adult Book That Can Teach Literary Fiction a Thing or Two: Yeah, It’s That Good

I have to confess that I can be terrible about book recommendations. They pile up, float around my brain, and sometimes surface years later. I don’t doubt they’re a good read, but I sort of have to discover a book for myself. I can be just as bad about books gifted to me. They sit in a stack, slowly read but always growing in number. If I’m ever snowed in for six months, I might get to them all.

I first heard about Chris Crutcher’s STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES about fifteen years ago. A teacher recommended it to me in passing, and I forgot about it until recently, when I started writing a YA book and therefore, started consuming YA books en masse. STAYING FAT… popped up and wow, I’m glad it did.
I’ve read a lot of YA. There’s romantic YA, fantastic YA (my corner of the block), and there’s a set I’d call “heavy YA.” In the heavy YA category I’d put the PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, SPROUT, and anything that really dives into the young adult experience in a realistic manner. STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES might be the reigning champion. It’s dark, but genuinely funny, while delving into questions about religion, morality, and what bonds us with other kids.
This is one of those books that I sort of feel like an idiot for not reading sooner. It won a large number of awards and is famous enough that it should have penetrated my bubble even back when I was being an English major snob about books (a habit I’m happy to have broken). STAYING FAT is one of those cases where I can set a Young Adult book beside a good number of literary fiction novels and it just blows them all away. 
In case you’re as in the dark as I was, it goes like this: Eric used to be fat. He’s still husky, but joining the swim team in high school has thinned him out. He fought it for a while, inhaling more food than was healthy, because being fat was what bonded him to Sarah Byrnes. Their childhood friendship was built on the foundation of his weight and her hideously disfigured face. Now Sarah isn’t speaking. She’s in an institution, and Eric is determined to draw her out. To do so, he recaps their exploits and how their friendship started. Along the way, Eric deals with a number of issues typical to high school: deciding where he stands on some things and learning how to go after what he wants. STAYING FAT…reminds me what it’s so easy to forget as an adult: that school was no golden youth, and that teenagers deal with heavy issues, heavy consequences, and heavy choices all the time. I’d tell you more about the book, but if you don’t already know, just pick it up. If you’re a parent, a teacher, anyone interested in writing young adult lit, or anyone just interested in reading a good book, then put this one at the top of your stack. I feel that strongly about it, me, who forgets recommendations and really wish I hadn’t ignored this one.

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