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Hey, Are You Gonna Eat That?

A review of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, a story of the deep, profound bond between two outcasts.

Hey, Are You Gonna Eat That?

BOOK REPORT for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Cover Story: Brown Bag It!
BFF Charm: Yes
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: In the Boys' Locker Room
Bonus Factors: Swimming, Friendship, Thinking
Relationship Status: My High School Boy BFF

Cover Story: Brown Bag It

Man, not only does this book break several cardinal rules of book covers, with its headless, floating body, it does it with A DUDE IN A SPEEDO. Gross. Hell to the no, even for Michael Phelps (actually, especially Michael Phelps).

The Deal:

Eric "Moby" Calhoune has been friends with Sarah Byrnes since grade school. He's been her only friend since grade school, if you don't count meathead Dale Thornton, and you can't count him since he dropped out of school after failing eighth grade for the millionth time. He was fat and she has horrible burn scars, thanks to her seriously scary dad (like, no, really, he's SCARY), so it was inevitable they'd team up on the playground. He's not fat anymore, thanks to varsity swimming, but she's still scarred. And as if regular high school isn't rough enough, with swimming regionals coming up and Moral Majority assholes running around and a vice principal with a stick so far up his ass it's actually fused to his esophagus, suddenly Eric has to deal with something with real consequences. When Sarah Byrnes -- and it's never just Sarah, so we can get the "burns/Byrnes" jokes out of the way first thing, thankyouverymuch -- ends up in the hospital after breaking down at school, Eric's the only one who might be able to get close to the truth and save her life.

BFF Charm: Yes

I love Eric. (I can't bring myself to call him Moby, even though he embraces the "fat kid swimming" identity.) He's empathetic and caring and funny and surprisingly brave and tough. He knows when he's being fed a pile of shit, and he's able to face up to things that scare him senseless because he cares. Before you gag on the touchy-feely vibes, he's also still a 17-year-old guy. I mean that in the best way possible, which means he's awesomely irreverent and a little gross and isn't above the odd masturbation joke -- in short, he's for sure the kind of kid I get a kick out of in a (hopefully) cool (hopefully not creepy) teacher kinda way, and the kind of guy I was BFFs with in high school.

I also am TOTALLY extending a solid gold BFF charm to Ellerby, Eric's buddy from swim team, and not just so I can ride around in the Christian Cruiser -- a sky-blue station wagon decked out with airbrushed clouds, snarky slogans like "The Wages of Sin is a Buck Fifty" and a loudspeaker blasting gospel tunes -- and picket the anti-abortion picket down at the Women's Clinic.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Am I allowed to rate the swoon between Eric's mom and her boyfriend Carver? Too bad, I'm going to anyway, 1) because there's no Eric-y swoon in the book (he and Sarah Byrnes are strictly platonic, and it's not because of her scars. It's more because their shared history is too strong for them to feel romantic -- they're like brother and sister. And the girlfriend plot is great, and has some fist-pump moments that make me wanna invite the girlfriend to my next slumber party, but it doesn't bring the swoon, either) and B) because I never thought I could find an accountant sexy until I met Carver. They're just the parental units, so the rating is pretty low, but you can bet your ass if this book was Raising Sarah Byrnes's Fat Best Friend: The Sandy Calhoune Story, I'd give it at LEAST a 7 or 8, depending on the details.

Talky Talk: In the Boys' Locker Room

Crutcher writes honestly from a boy's perspective, with all the jock itch and soft-core porn that entails. It's funny and sarcastic, but is also a little like visiting a foreign country. It gets a bit preachy at times, but it's usually endearingly so, kind of like listening to the high school kids drinking coffee at 2 a.m. at Denny's and talking about life issues without straying into college-kids-drinking-coffee-at-2-a.m.-at-the-latest-hipster-grunge-cafe philosophy territory. So while he lays it on a bit thick, it rarely crosses over from snork to eyeroll.

But Brittain's four-point-oh grade average includes no A's for insight, and he forges on like a runaway gospel train without Ellerby and me there to throw objects onto his tracks to derail him.

Bonus Factor: Swimming

There's nothing I love more about summer than swimming, except drinking tasty cocktails WHILE swimming. And while the swim team hardly gets to laze around on a raft drinking umbrella drinks and reading kissing books, I still love the whiff of chlorine.

Bonus Factor: Friendship

Sometimes a book about real, deep friendship is worth 1000 cheap panty-melting thrills. And this is one of those times.

Bonus Factor: Thinking

The swim coach is that rare bird not usually seen in real high schools (at least not at mine) -- the coach who's actually also a good teacher. She teaches an elective for seniors called Contemporary American Thought and lets the students hash out their positions on big, scary issues like religion and abortion and crime and war and racism, while teaching them how to argue effectively and respect others' opinions.

Casting Call:

Dylan O'Brien as Ellerby

SORRY, YOU GUYS. Really. I know he's on Teen Wolf, but I can't help it. I kinda like him!

Relationship Status: My High School Boy BFF

This book is totally that guy I was best friends with in high school -- that guy I would never EVER even consider dating, but who was my oracle on what guys think. The guy I'd drive around with for hours, jamming (jokingly, of course) to Backstreet Boys and laughing about our lame band director. We're not close now, but we keep in touch whenever we're back home at the same time, and I have nothing but warm feelings, good memories and some seriously awesome Beavis-and-Butthead-inspired photos.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.