I picked up Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Cruther somewhere in college when I went on one of my “wild amazon” trips and spent like 60 dollars on books in one go! Exciting! The point of these trips was always to buy something I wouldn’t normally buy. I’d read on some blog that Crutcher was this YA must read and I won’t lie the title stuck out at me.
So what I didn’t notice before I started the book was this summary
Which is very different from this
So somewhere around page 50 I really wanted to quit because of the unbelievably of things like a teenage boy who regularly slaps his mom’s friend on the ass and is met with nothing more than an “Oh you!” Smile from the mom. It was life was like through eyes of the nice but dumb jock in your high school. Then we’re supposed to believe that a juvenile mental hospital would be so easy going they would let a teenage boy take a mute teenage girl outside for long walks alone. Yep, nothing to worry about there…
And then it got even more over the top. There’s a kidnapping! A runaway burn victims trip to Rio! A stabbing! A Vietnam Vet having a flashback on a deserving mother fucker! I’d have loved this in middle school. There’s one scene that makes such little sense to me that I honestly think it might have been a dream sequence. Or maybe I fever dreamed it. I don’t want to spoil it for you but trust me you’ll know it when you’re there.
The whole premise of most of this book is so unbelievable it’s a little hard to read at times. This book basically takes place entirely in a class that no school would ever allow. The whole class is basically the students discussing difficult topics. It quickly becomes apparent that this is just there so the author has an excuse to say everything he wants about abortion. Your suspension of disbelief is just holding on by a shred the whole time. I actually agreed with almost everything the author said on the topic so I didn’t totally mind that part it was just that it felt a lot like preaching. It’s also so unnecessary, he could have made it a debate club and that would have made sense but then they kids couldn’t straight up be mean to each other because there’d be rules and factual arguments and strategy. So fuck it preach class it is.
For all the feminist messaging around abortion, of which there is a lot, this book falls into common not so awesome tropes of the era. Like any good saving the Princess novel, not only does the fat hero get a super hot girlfriend we also get to see the bad guy get a revenge beating because clearly true justice is violent. The titular character remains a burn victim and rather than getting a love interest she gets parents. Because burn victims need love but not sex? We’re also suppose to believe that the teacher who does break several laws during the coarse of the book would still have a job.
Now, I really hate when people say things like “The characters didn’t talk like real teens.” because have you ever listen to real teens? Or real adults? 99% of the time it’s boring as fuck and filled with a lot of hmm, likes, umms. No one wants to read that. What we want is how we all imagine we talk. Culturally authentic and smooth. What I find more to be annoying is when authors try to make kids sound hip but they still want to get it by the PTO gatekeepers so you’ll have 15 year olds saying things like “you cheese-ball” to each other when they’re alone. I honestly don’t believe that in the history of teenagers there haven’t been kids cussing up a storm when the teacher left the room. Now I’m not saying authors should start dropping f-bombs the way well, that I do, but don’t hide it either. The kids either curse or not, don’t dress it up so much it stands out.
The biggest plus side of this book was the aforementioned it’s pretty pro-choice and actually not slut shamey. It also preaches the dangers of forcing not just your religion but your interpretation of your religion on other people. But what was probably one of the most important messages that was in there was about the amount of pressure we put on people to be certain things. Whither it’s pretty, or fit or perfect. All the main characters, even the dicks, have to deal with the fallout of not being able to live up to whatever unreachable standard. Some of them adjust, some of them hurt other people and some of them hurt themselves on the way down. The message that you didn’t have to reach those unobtainable goals was and is rather important for the millennial generation. The olds are quick to criticize the millennial generation as being the self esteem mistake. That because we were all told we were special snowflakes now we can’t deal with anything hard. I think while the upper and middle class kids we’re being told that they we’re special in every way they were also pushed into a lot of extra curricular activities that they might not have actually been all that in to and then expected to excel because when you raise someone with the assumption that they can really “be anything” it’s hard to draw realistic lines around what they can do. While I had a much more working class upbringing I did see kids on the other side of the town line who really did believe if they weren’t getting straight A’s and the lead in the school show and a choice spot on the student council all was lost. I still know some of those people only now they are 30 and even more exhausted.
Understanding that if you accept the shit that’s not perfect about you life will be a lot easier to live is a good lesson at any age. So while this book stretched my disbelief muscle almost to the breaking point I allow it to stay on my over packed NY bookcase as a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect you just have to be.