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Literature / Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

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From the back cover: What do you get when you throw together one of the ugliest human beings outside a circus and the fattest boy in high school? Two kids with the "terminal uglies" who are inseparable best friends.

Sarah Byrnes's face is mostly third-degree burn scars. She's had them since she was 3 years old, but one day, during her senior year of high school, she stops talking completely and is taken in for psychiatric treatment. It's up to her only friend, Eric, to find out whether he can make her talk again. Along the way, he falls in love with his dream girl, fights with her ex, and looks at religion in a whole new way.


Often considered one of Chris Crutcher's strongest novels, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was published in 1993 and won several awards, including the Joan Fassler Memorial Award, the ALAN Award for Contributions to Young Adult Literature, and the California Young Reader Medal.

Tropes applicable to this book include:

  • Abusive Parents: Sarah Byrnes' father and mother; Mark Brittain's father.
  • A Friend in Need: And how.
  • Badass Teacher: Ms. Lemry, who risked her job to take Sarah Byrnes into Nevada to seek her mother.
  • Badass Preacher: Reverend Ellerby.
  • Beautiful All Along: A justified aversion: Sarah Byrnes' burns (1) were treated only until they were nonlethal, with next to nothing reconstructive ever done, and (2) are 15 years old by the time we meet her. Even with extensive plastic surgery, she'll never be a pretty woman. Played straight with Eric: When he joins the swim team and loses weight, girls start to take interest in him.
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  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Only if you take it way too far. Steve Ellerby's beliefs rival those of Mark Brittain, but he's much more reasonable, well-read, and adjusted in his belief than Mark.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Carver Middleton is a perfectly nice, reasonable guy... Until you hurt his girlfriend's son.
  • Broken Bird: Sarah Byrnes and Jody Mueller. Eric's mom, Sandy, might be this as well.
  • Dean Bitterman: Mautz, with a heavy helping of a Tyrant Takes the Helm story mixed in.
  • Development Hell: According to the author, a live-action adaptation is in "pre-pre-production". The Writers' Strike of 2008 meant the script (which was, presumably, in the very first stage of pre-writes at the time) has been abandoned, but new writers are being brought in.
  • Distinctive Appearances: Sarah Byrnes, who can be recognized even if you've never seen her before.
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  • Driven to Suicide: Mark attempts this after it becomes public that he forced Jodie to have an abortion.
  • Extreme Doormat: Jody, but she finds her feet and stands on them by the end of the book.
  • Fat and Proud: Eric, implied through most of the book, and then confirmed at the end.
  • For the Evulz: Sarah Byrnes claims this is why her father does anything at all.
  • Full-Name Basis: If you want a response from her, you have to address her as Sarah Byrnes. She will not answer to "Sarah".
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Mark espouses this view at length in class when the subject comes up. Later, it is revealed that he forced Jody Mueller to abort his baby.
  • Heel Realization: Mark has one after his suicide attempt which leads him to publically apologize for his actions and seek therapy.
  • Hypocrite: Mark Brittain. Full stop. Despite having nothing but contempt for women seeking abortions—they should suffer the consequences for "fornicating," after all—he bullies Jody into getting one after having pestered her into sex to begin with. An illegitimate child would ruin his reputation, after all.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Carver does this to Virgil by beating him to a pulp
  • Mama Bear and Papa Wolf: Sandy Calhoune (the mere suggestion of Eric bringing her in to talk with Mautz is enough to make Mautz shut up) and Carver Middleton to Eric and Sarah Byrnes.
    • Mr. Ellerby, full stop. As soon as Steve calls him that Mautz is trying something shady, he swoops into the office and manipulates Mautz into making a career-ending statement in front of 3 witnesses. Almost as an afterthought, he shuts down any further attempts at punishing/blaming Eric and Steve for Mark's suicide attempt. Too bad he left before Mautz brought Virgil out of the closet to harass Eric.
  • Preacher's Kid: The superficially irreverent Steve Ellerby seems like a sympathetically-portrayed Type 2; the sanctimonious Mark Brittain, like an unsympathetically-portrayed Type 1. Early in the book, that is; both ultimately subvert the trope.
  • Punished with Ugly: Sarah Byrnes, in what is probably the cruelest way ever committed to paper.
  • Punny Name: Sarah Byrnes... much to her annoyance.
    • If it ever was funny to the reader, it stops being funny rather quickly.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Cyndi Lemry, Sandy Calhoune, Reverend Ellerby and Carver Middleton.
  • Serial Escalation: Just when you thought Virgil couldn't get any worse, he fucking does.
  • Team Mom: Lemry, both literally (she's the school swim coach) and in the classroom.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mark Brittain. Played straight and then subverted.
  • Theme Naming: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Mary Brittain.
    • Justified, as their family takes religion seriously.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: To understand Mark Brittain's unrelenting views and belief in Christianity, one has only to talk to his father. Steve Ellerby was this for a time after his older brother died, and viewed himself as The Unfavorite; in his case, both were subverted.


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