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Book Club Kits: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

When Sarah Byrnes was three years old, her condition became synonymous with her surname. Her face and hands were badly burned in a mysterious accident, and her father refused to allow reconstructive surgery. She developed a suit of cold, stainless steel armor to defend herself against the taunts of a world insensitive to her pain. You enter into Sarah Byrnes's world on her terms, or you don't enter.

Enter Eric Calhoune--Moby to his friends. Eric passed through his early years on a steady diet of Oreos and Twinkies and root beer floats, and he sports the girth to prove it. Because of their "terminal uglies," he and Sarah Byrnes have become true masters in the art of underhanded revenge directed at anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities.

When Eric turns out for the high school swimming team, he begins to shed layers of extra poundage. Fearing the loss of the one friendship he treasures, he gorges to "stay fat for Sarah Byrnes," who discovers his motive and threatens to beat him more senseless than she thinks he already is. Then the truth of Sarah Byrnes's horrific past finally catches up with her.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a darkly funny, suspenseful novel about friendship, fear, and making the best of a bad situation. Once again Chris Crutcher slaps us in the face with compelling questions that demand dignified answers.

Discussion Questions

  • Author Chris Crutcher dedicated this book to “all those who finally stand up for themselves.” Which characters learn to stand up for themselves? What has to happen to get them there?

  • Sarah Byrnes has spent a lifetime standing up for herself but it hasn't made her safe or happy. What additional lessons or skills does she pick up in the course of the book?

  • Narrator Eric Calhoun ("Moby") seems to think of himself as Sarah's only real friend. But super loser Dale Thornton is the person she tells what really happened when she was burned. Why do you think she chooses Dale to confide in?

  • Moby's dad left the family before Moby was born and Sarah's mother runs out on her daughter not just once, but twice. Yet there are several strong adults – parents, a teacher, a minister – who help the kids and who have their respect. What qualities do you notice in the "good" adults? Do they seem realistic?

  • Which of the characters in this book present a “false face” to the world? How do their words and actions differ from who they really are?

  • Which character do you think changed the most by the end of the book? What caused them to change? How did they change?

  • Sarah’s father was an abusive parent. In what ways did he abuse her? Do you think he really would have killed her in order to keep his secret?

  • Sarah’s scars are an outward sign of tremendous pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. But her classmates, for the most part, are not sympathetic to her plight. Why do you think people turn a blind eye to the suffering of others?

  • Do you think friends are obligated to keep secrets for one another? What if keeping the secret might place your friend in danger, or hurt them in some way later on?

  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has been challenged and even banned in school and public libraries around the country. Why does this book elicit such a strong response? Do you think it is right for one person or group of people to attempt to dictate what an entire community is allowed to read?