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Book Review: Period.8 by Chris Crutcher


Period 8. An hour a day. You can hang out. You can eat your lunch. You can talk. Or listen. Or neither. Or both.

Nothing is off-limits. The only rule is that you keep it real; that you tell the truth.

Heller High senior Paul Baum–aka Paulie Bomb–tells the truth. Not the “Wow, that’s an ugly sweater” variety of truth, but the other kind. The truth that matters. It might be hard. It often hurts. But Paulie doesn’t know how not to tell it. When he tells his girlfriend Hannah the life-altering, messed-up, awful truth, his life falls apart. The truth can get complicated, fast.

But someone in Period 8 is lying. And Paulie, Hannah, and just about everyone else who stops by the safe haven of the P-8 room daily are deceived. And when a classmate goes missing and the mystery of her disappearance seeps beyond P-8 and into every hour of the day, all hell breaks loose. (Synopsis from ARC copy, read more at Goodreads.com)

The Review:

So, I am a Chris Crutcher FAN. Not a fan, but a FAN (read about That Time I Met Chris Crutcher and Sobbed here).  On the whole, he tends to do contemporary fiction amazingly well, in part because he is actually in the trenches working with troubled teens.  Period.8 turns out to be another captivating read with a little mystery twist that really touches onto some of today’s headlines.

Period.8 tells our story in multiple voices, primarily that of Paul, but also of his ex-girlfriend, some of his period 8 classmates, and the ultra-cool teacher “Logs” that hosts Period 8.  Period 8 is an informal lunch period that is ungraded where the students all come together in “Logs” classroom to discuss who they are, what they think about the world they live in, etc.  When reading the scenes that actually took place in Period 8 I kept thinking of the class discussions that they have in 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (which would make it a good companion novel). 

When the “Virgin” Mary disappears, there is a lot of speculation as to what is happening. Then she reappears, only to disappear again. Mary was on the fast track of Valedictorian and college, but suddenly she seems to be falling apart. What is happening behind the scenes in this small town, and to Mary and a fellow student named Kylie, are truly sinister. And the whodunnit behind it is disturbing; very few teen novels have presented a truly psychopathic teen character (and because I don’t want to reveal to much information, I can’t talk to you here about the awesome character development or the slow building of tension and stunning reveal, you’ll just have to read it.)

There are some implausible elements to Period.8 that require a certain amount of letting go.  Although “Logs”  seemed very invested in his students and very hip (what student WOULDN’T want him as a teacher?), he really seemed to blur the lines with his students in ways that would get him into serious trouble in today’s world.  In fact, it is hard to imagine a school even permitting Period 8 and the discussions that happen.  I don’t know that it would stand out so much to teen readers, but adults will have a hard time suspending disbelief at the teacher’s relationship with his students and the lack of follow-up on the couple of incidents that happen (a female student claims to have been at his house around midnight).  However, I really recommend letting it go because it is an interesting read.

Period.8 is in many ways classic Crutcher, but it is also something new and different from him.  I thought it was a slow start, in part because you have to meet all of the characters and get into their voice, but it becomes a great, sinister thriller with all the insight you expect from a Chris Crutcher novel.  3.5 out of 5 stars.  Published March 26, 2013 by Harper Collins. ISBN: 9780061914805 (Please note, this is a Chris Crutcher novel so it has mature language and themes)


No seriously, spoilers. Don’t read this next part until after you read the book.

Recently, we have had a couple of posts by Kim Purcell regarding her book, Trafficked, and the topic of Human Trafficking.  Period.8 is an interesting look at human trafficking in a less conventional way.  Here, girls aren’t snatched off the street, but they are being forced against their will to engage in activities that are destructive to them and will have long term consequences.  Again, I don’t want to give away too much information, but I think this could definitely be put in a discussion on human trafficking.

Contest: Caption This! with YA Authors Chris Crutcher and Charlie Price

Long before Chris Crutcher or Charlie Price were award winning, YA novelists, they were hippie teachers, wrangling kids at a “last chance” alternative school in Oakland, California. 

Caption this picture in the comments!
To celebrate their shady history and their new book releases, Chris and Charlie are asking three bloggers to help them give away a few books — and inspire a few laughs at their expense. Visit:

Teen Librarian Toolbox (March 12)

Reading Junky (March 19)

Cynsations (March 26)

Use the comment function to post a caption for one or all of three vintage 70s photos and you’ll be entered to win a free signed copy of Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price and a free signed copy of Period 8 by Chris Crutcher.

You can either register your contact information at Rafflecopter below or send it to Kelly. (The Rafflecopter randomizer feature won’t be used to pick a winner, as it’s a contest. She just needs some way to let you know if you’ve won and obtain your shipping information.)
Chris and Charlie will hand pick the winners, so let yourself go crazy. Funny is our mission. And with these classic images, how could you go wrong?

Must be 16 or older to enter. Deadline: April 1. Prizes will be distributed by April 15.

Three runner-up entries will win signed advanced reader copies of Period 8, so if you’re a collector of signed ARCs, try not to be too funny.  If you have trouble posting your captions, send them to Kelly Milner Halls at kellymilnerh@aol.com and she’ll be sure you’re safely entered.

May the grooviest entries win!

About the Books

Period.8 by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow, 2013)

Period 8. An hour a day. You can hang out. You can eat your lunch. You can talk. Or listen. Or neither. Or both.

Nothing is off-limits. The only rule is that you keep it real; that you tell the truth.

Heller High senior Paul Baum–aka Paulie Bomb–tells the truth. Not the “Wow, that’s an ugly sweater” variety of truth, but the other kind. The truth that matters. It might be hard. It often hurts. But Paulie doesn’t know how not to tell it. When he tells his girlfriend Hannah the life-altering, messed-up, awful truth, his life falls apart. The truth can get complicated, fast.

But someone in Period 8 is lying. And Paulie, Hannah, and just about everyone else who stops by the safe haven of the P-8 room daily are deceived. And when a classmate goes missing and the mystery of her disappearance seeps beyond P-8 and into every hour of the day, all hell breaks loose. Click for more about Period 8 by Chris Crutcher at Goodreads.com

Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price

As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway, JJ, her drifty fostercare sister, and Mick, the son of a petty thief, discover the body of a young woman. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder investigation threatening their freedom—and maybe their lives. Click for more about Dead Girl Moon at Goodreads.com

That time I met Chris Crutcher and sobbed like a teenage girl who had just met R Patz

Gratituous Duran Druan Pic
SAT Question: Duran Duran is to Teenage Karen
as what author is to Librarian Karen?

When I was in High School, I went with my two best friends to see the love of our lives in concert: Duran Duran.  I remember when the show was over we sat there and all of the sudden – I started hyperventilating.  My best friend Teri reached over and slapped me.  It wasn’t that bad, but after meeting Chris Crutcher, I did get into my car, call The Mr. and start sobbing.  I had just met Chris Crutcher!!

How it Came to Be
I work part-time as the teen librarian with a lady who works during the day as a High School Spanish teacher in a different school district.  She looked at one day and said that Chris Crutcher was coming to her school.  I apparently yelled and then begged her to let me come. Not only did I get to go, but they invited me to lunch and I sat right next to Chris Crutcher.  Many of you will recall that Chris Crutcher is listed as one of my favorite authors on my bio here; I have even written a Why YA? piece on Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  And at lunch, I didn’t ask Chris one single good question.  Susan made me swear not to embarrass her.  We did, however, all talk about Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and it was interesting to hear my writer hero gush over another writer.   Crutcher called this book a lesson in master plotting.  It was clear that he loved this book and admired the writing. (And yes, I really did take my Star Wars lunch box to eat lunch with Chris Crutcher.)


Chris Crutcher Speaks

Although I wrote about Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes as my Why YA? post, it is probably more correct to say that Whale Talk is my favorite Chris Crutcher book and probably in my top 10 favorite books of all time. So it was a great pleasure of mine to hear Crutcher speak about the writing of this book.

As many of you know, Chris Crutcher has spent much of his life working with “troubled” kids and teens, including doing some play therapy with foster children.  It is here, working with Head Start, that Crutcher met the 5-year-old girl who would become a part of the heart and soul that is Whale Talk.  It was so great to hear and be reminded that there are people out there every day being a champion to children.  As Crutcher talked about the importance of gaining reader’s trust and telling their stories authentically, I was reminded once again about the importance of realistic fiction that really reaches into the hearts of my teens and not only shakes them to the core, but reminds them that they are not alone.

“You have to start where they are” – Chris Crutcher

When referring to the use of language in his books, Crutcher reminded us all that cussing is “the language of desperation” and our teens use it, and he must use it, to show us all how desperate they are for love and acceptance. 


As Crutcher worked with this little girl, he saw how she was tired and weary from having to audition for a place to live, until he helped her find that place where she belonged.  Years later he ran into her again and she gave him permission to tell her story because she wanted to tell her secrets so that others could “read a story and know you’re not alone.”  As Crutcher said, “If I back off the language, I back off the step dad.  If I back off the meanness of the step dad, I back off the heroism of this little girl.”  I am going to be completely honest; I had no idea there were any real people in Whale Talk, but I respect Crutcher even more (is that even possible?) for his desire and commitment to this little girl and to make sure her story is heard authentically so that is can touch the heart of everyone who reads it.

“The touch language that goes with a touch life is what gets you banned.” – Chris Crutcher

The Socratic Seminar

The next portion of Chris Crutcher’s visit involved the Avid students joining on stage to participate in a Socratic Seminar on the book Deadline.  Here, the students presented questions and discussed them in front of their peers – and Chris Crutcher.  I so admired both their courage and the intellect which they brought to this discussion.  Let me just give you a taste of the questions that they asked and the discussion that followed . . .

Why did Ben keep his illness a secret?
He didn’t want to be treated any differently; He didn’t want to worry his family

How would this story be different if he told his parents that he was ill?
They would try and take control and make him get treatment; He would lose that freedom to direct his final year of life

How would you react if you were in Marla’s position? (Marla is Ben’s psychologist)
Some felt they would try and find a way to tell his parents and others said they would respect the client confidentiality.

What is the theme of Deadline?
Crutcher: The unpredictability of life and the nature of courage
Teens: The importance of experiencing new things, not taking life for granted, living your life with no regrets

Would the story be the same if it was not about a teen or about a small population area? (The population in the book is 943)
Here the teens had a good conversation about how quickly secrets can spread but about how hard it is to know about and care about people in larger population area.

Final thoughts (Reflections)
Impending death creates such a sense of urgency, whereas before you might have thought you had a lot of time to be who you wanted to be and do the things you wanted to do – Chris Crutcher
Teens: pressured to leave a good impression in life so other can follow in my footsteps; I would want to make peace

Find out more about Socratic Seminars here
You can view a YouTube video about hosting a Socratic Seminar here

Chris Crutcher: “I can only tell you what it means to me”

In his closing address, Crutcher answered teen questions about being a writer – how he became one, why he does it and the always popular question, how do you do it.

On writing Crutcher says:

  • Read a lot
  • Write stuff down (feelings that you feel, things that you see)
  • Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it

In the end, Crutcher says, it is all about “connection” – We’re all in a continuum.  We all have some thing in common.  We all have a history and a future.  We know our history but our future is unknown.

Some final thoughts from Crutcher

“What kind of footprint do you want to leave?”

“Tell the best story and let it fall wherever it may”

“I can’t tell you what a book means. I can only tell you what a book means to me.  What you take away for it is yours. The response is yours to own.”

“I try to make me characters lives as intimate as possible. Then it falls into readers hands and it becomes a new story.”

I was so impressed to see these teens talking about Deadline and engaging in this Socratic seminar.  They were so thoughtful in their response and wiser then we ever give them credit for.  It is moments like these that remind us all why we do what we do; these teens are not only our future, they are our here and now and they need champions like Chris Crutcher (and teachers and librarians) to allow them to live their lives authentically, wherever they may be.

As I walked out of the building, I began to cry.  It was such an inspiring day. And – oh yeah – I got to meet one of my heroes!!

Chris Crutcher is the author of several amazing YA books, including Ironman, Stotan, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Whale Talk, Deadline, and Angry Management.  He has a new book, Period 8, coming out in 2013.  You can find out more at his website www.chriscrutcher.comPeriod 8 will be published in March 2013 by Harper Collins books.

P.S. I have since seen Duran Duran in concert 4 times and although I don’t hyperventilate anymore, they are some awesome memories.  Hi Beth and M.

What’s your favorite Chris Crutcher book and why? Tell us in the comments.

Postscript: So I said to one of the HS girls, “I just love Chris Crutcher.” And she replied to me, “I know what you mean, I really love One Direction.”  Your turn: Who was your childhood/teenagedom hyperventilating favorite band? And what author would make you go to your car and sob if you met them?

Shelf Talkers: The “C” Word in Teen Fiction

My Judy Blume fan.  Because Judy Blume “gets it”.

Several years ago my grandmother went to the ER and they opened her up and said they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do for her.  She had cancer and, because she didn’t know it was there, it was so advanced that in just a couple of months it took her from us.  It was quick and unexpected, but often cancer is not.  Sometimes it hangs over you for years

I met and began dating The Mr. when I was 18 years old.  On my 20th birthday we got engaged.  I met the man who would be my father-in-law exactly once.  He was at home in the midst of what would turn out to be an all to brief period of remission from lymphoma.  By the time we got engaged he had already passed away.

Many years later, my friend  (my mentor, my adopted mom) would call and tell me that she too had cancer.  Unlike the others in my life, she would survive (thank God and modern medicine).  She was fighting cancer at the same time that I laid on bed rest fighting HG and trying to make sure my baby made it into this world.  We would call each other and talk about what it was like to have fallen down the rabbit hole that our lives had become.  I am the librarian I am today, and the persona I am today, in large part because of what she taught me.  I am thankful every day that we both made it out of that rabbit hole.

These past few weeks I have spent wondering if cancer was once again going to touch my life.  The truth is, it touches all of our lives at one point or another.  Current statistics indicate that 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will have cancer of some form.  Cancer touches us all.  I remember years ago watching the movie St. Elmo’s Fire and there was a scene around the dinner table where the mom whispered that another person had “cancer” (said in a tiny, tiny whisper).  And here we are just 20 years later and the word is so common, we no longer whisper it.  It is no longer the “C” word.  So today I thought I would share with you some of the best books out there about teens dealing with cancer in their lives.

As I was writing this post, my childhood favorite, Judy Blume, announced that she, too, was fighting cancer.  Thankfully, she is recovering well. All my good wishes go out to her.  Her books have touched millions of lives, including mine.  The other day I had a teen come in and ask where the Judy Blume books were.  She reads them, she says, because “Judy Blume gets it.”

Before I share some of the amazing works of teen fiction out there dealing with cancer, I want to encourage you to read this amazing piece of work by Katie1234 in Teen Ink called The Cancer Monolgue.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Hazel and Augustus are two teens struggling with cancer in a brilliant, touching story written in the master class by John Green.  Hazel and Augusts try to resist falling in love because they know what fate awaits them both, but sometimes the heart has its own ideas.  With snark, wit, wisdom and humor, Green tells their story and pulls at your heart strings in all the right ways.  This book has now spent months on the bestseller list so if you are one of the two people who hasn’t yet read it, you really should.

A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin
Samantha and Julia have been best friends forever, bound together by their love of dance.  In the summer before their senior year they are poised for great things and ready to face the world head on.  But what they aren’t ready for is cancer.  Julia is diagnosed with incurable cancer.  A Time for Dancing is an older title, published in 1997, but it is a raw presentation of the anger and fear that comes from a cancer diagnosis.

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl is a book that has done a very rare thing: made me laugh out loud. Literally.  And yes, it is indeed a book about cancer via “the dying girl”.  Greg and Earl end up spending time with Rachel, who has leukemia.  They are not really friends. but Greg’s mom wants him to help Rachel.  Greg is used to flying below the social radar at school, but suddenly finds himself the center of more attention then he ever wanted.  The guffaws come courtesy of some baked goods laced with marijuana and their unexpected eaters.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Second Chance Summer is one of my favorite summer books of all time.  Matson perfectly captures the essence of summer in this story of Taylor Edwards whose father has been diagnosed with cancer.  In addition to all the touchstones, including summer love and rekindled friendships, SCS is a beautiful story of a relationship between daughter and father.  As you know, these types of relationships are rare in teen fiction, but Matson presents a rich and deep look at what it is like to spend what may be your last moments with someone you love and adore.  You will sob.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher
What would you do if you knew you only have a year to live?  How would you spend that last year?  That is the question that Ben Wolf faces.  Told in a way that only Chris Crutcher can tell it, Ben spends his final year trying to find a way to make his mark on the world.

If you have titles to share, please add them in the comments.

Book Review: Cornered, 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance

You can’t turn on the nightly news without hearing news stories about how bullying is affecting the lives of our teens.  Make no mistake, bullying has always been an issue, but the impact of it seems to be changing as bullying takes to the Internet.  Teens are talking about it.  Parents are talking about it.  School are talking about it.  And authors are writing about it.  So I was interested in seeing this collection of 15 stories about bullying.

Cornered has a foreward written by Chris Crutcher.  Chris Crutcher is a fabulous author, he is one of my favorites, but he is also an adolescent psychologist with keen insight into the teenage psyche.  In his forward Crutcher notes that “bullying starts with adults” because we “don’t tolerate kids finding their ways through natural developmental stages.”  I also appreciate it when Crutcher says, “If you want to find the bullies, a good place to look is among the bullied.  Most of what we learn as little ones comes through our pores.  Back before language we absorb through our senses.”  In some ways, when we are talking about teens, it is too late, they have already learned the ways of violence.  Crutcher’s introduction provides a keen, thoughtful introduction to these varied 15 stories.  And the stories themselves will prompt some good discussion about the topic with your teens.

Here’s another interesting thing about short story anthologies; although it seems like they would be an easy sell – especially to reluctant readers – they are, in fact, a very hard sell in terms of library circulation I have always found.  I imagine they work well in the classroom and the school library, but I have always found they are dust collectors in the public library.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t purchase them.  (What about at your library – do short story collections circulate for you?)

But let’s talk about this particular collection of short stories, shall we?  Like all short story collections, there are some good and some kinda meh.  There are a couple of stories, like Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole, that take the topic of bullying out of reality and into the realm of fantasy.

The two stories that have stayed with me the longest after reading this collection are Nemesis by Kirsten Miller and How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brendan Halpin.

Nemesis is the story of an individual who goes by the name, well, Nemesis.  Once a victim of bullying herself, she now offers a unique service to those being bullied: she anonymously documents their tormentors and sends them a cease and desist order or threatens to go public.  But what happens if the person that contacts you for this service happens to be the person who tormented you?

How Auto-Tune Saved My Life is a fascinating look at bullying because in this case, it is the teacher that it a bully.  Of course it is true, with power and authority, such as teachers have in the classroom, comes a great temptation to abuse that power – and your students.  This was a brutal story.  We all know teachers that had a reputation, but it is nothing compared to the teacher in this story.  Here, some students get together and find a unique way to try and bring the problem to light, with interesting results.  Because the sad truth is that sometimes, the bully wins and justice does not prevail.

Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison (author of The Butterfly Clues, a previous Rec of the Week) touches on what Crutcher mentioned in his foreward.  As the title implies, this is a brutal story, full of raw emotion and some intense physical violence.

In this collection of 15 stories there are a wide variety of targets and perpetrators and there is good coverage of various scenarios.  Issues of sexuality and gender identity are raised, suicide is discussed, and the role and reactions of parents and educators are highlighted.  I tried to read these stories in one sitting but it was rough; these are intense, raw emotions being discussed.  I posted rants several times while reading these stories on my Facebook page about my thoughts on bullying and how angry it makes me.  These stories will definitely make you think, challenge some of what we think we know about bullies and bullying, and can really open the floodgates of discussion.  For me, personally, a couple of the stories simply didn’t work; but a couple of the stories worked so well that it makes the collection a good purchase, especially for schools.  I would love to see schools make reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life a regular part of staff development to be honest.

And to close our 15 stories, there is a short story by Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  Let me just say that if you have not read Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, you should stop what you are doing and go read it NOW! Seriously, I’ll wait.  I love that book – it is wicked funny and very Buffyesque.  Her short story here, We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team, has some Necromancer tie-in and it ends the collection on just the right note.

As a total side note, since we are discussing short stories about bullying, I would like to recommend that you pair this collection with the truly amazing short story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury, one of the most gut wrenching stories about bullying I have ever read.  I read it in English class, 8th grade, and still think of it often to this day.  You can view the story here.  It would make an interesting unit to look at the old and the new and compare the two.

As for Cornered, it comes out in July of 2012 and is being published by Running Press Teens.  I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it particularly for school libraries and classrooms.  And like I said, schools should consider reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life as part of their yearly staff development.

Table of Contents:
Nemesis by Kirsten Miller
On Your Own Level by Sheba Karim
The Shift Sticks by Josh Berk
Everyone’s Nice by David Yoo
Defense Mechanisms by Elizabeth Miles
Sweet Sixteen by Zetta Elliott
Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison
How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brenda Halpin
TK by Rhoda Belleza
The Ambush by Matthue Roth
Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole
But Not Forgotten by Jennifer Brown
The Truest Story There Is by Jaime Adoff
Still Not Dead by James Lecesne
We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team by Lish McBride

Want to win a copy of this ARC?  Leave a comment before June 17th – our 1 year birthday – and you’ll be entered to win.  Be sure to leave a contact e-mail in your comment.

Why YA? Giving voice to Sarah Byrnes (Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher)

Reading ya lit with our teens helps
them view the real world with a
safety net.

The thing that shocked me most when I began working with teens was how much different their lives were from mine.  My first eye opening moment came when I saw an incredibly large teen beating up a boy who was the size of a 3rd grader.  I simply ran in and called the police because I thought we all clearly understood that hurting another was not only inhumanely grievous, but a crime.  A couple of days later this abusive teen returned to my library with a posse, one of whom was carrying a sledge hammer.  I was sitting in a chair when he approached me and he leaned down at me with one arm on each arm of the chair, pinning me in.  “You better not ever call the police on me again,” he growled.  In my youth I was (courageous/naive/bold/stupid/whatever) so I simply looked him in the eye and replied, “You better not ever give me a reason to.”  Weeks later I was at a gas station when he approached me again and thankfully the gas station attendant came out and intervened on my behalf.  I wish I could say that was my only terrifying experience working with teens, but it was not. Nor was it my only heartbreaking one.

Over the years I have grown close to teens who have had babies and abortions.  I have spent time with teens abandoned by their parents being raised by grandparents.  Some of my most heartbreaking moments have been recent as I have comforted teens who have had friends, and fathers, take, or attempt to take, their own lives.  I have visited juvenile detention centers with teens who stole or set fires for no reason other fact that they had no hope and it didn’t really matter anyway.  There were no spring flings or new school clothes coming up.  There were no cars at 16 and graduation parties at 18.  No prospects of college because if food doesn’t show up on the table at night you are guaranteed that there will be no one dropping you off at your dorm your freshman year with small room refrigerators, stereos, and the promise that you can come home on the weekend to get your laundry done.  There is no one home at the end of the day offering these teens a plate of homebaked cookies and asking them how their day was.  Some of these teens came to the library after school for no reason other than the fact that they couldn’t go home until after dark and they needed a place to stay; for them – there was never any hope for dinner.

This is one of the reasons why I love Chris Crutcher.  Crutcher is an author who spends time in the grittily real world of teens who are living lives that we could never imagine.  He gives them a voice and tells their stories.  I read them, and I think everyone should, because by stepping into their world – I, too, give them a voice.  And in learning who they are and what they feel, I develop the tools to love them unconditionally; to see beyond their challenging exterior and see the true brokenness that rests inside their breastbones where a beating heart should be.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the story of two outcasts drawn together by their exteriors.  Eric is shunned for his obesity and Sarah Byrnes has a face riddled with scars.  These are two “ugly” teens shunned in a world that prizes beauty.  Slowly, Eric begins to change and find himself through swimming; his body slims down but his friendship with Sarah Byrnes remains strong.  Sarah Byrnes now sits silent in a hospital and Eric must discover the secrets that haunt her.  You see, the scars on Sarah Byrnes face may be no accident and Sarah, like many teens in homes across our country, is not at all safe.  Abortion, murder, suicide, body image – these are all topics that come up in this book with chilling effect.  But we are kidding ourselves if we think they are not topics that many teens have to face in very real ways.  Maybe not your teens, hopefully not your teens, but the breathe would leave your lungs if you knew what happened when some of our teens walked up the steps of their homes and closed the door to the world outside.

Although Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has been declared one of the “Best of the Best Books for Young Adults” by the American Library Association – and it truly is – parents have often fought to have this book, and many others, removed from school and public libraries.  They want to protect their children they say from books like these.  But who is protecting teens from living lives like this?  Who is standing up for teens like Sarah Byrnes?  Everyone who reads this book is.  You see, when we open the pages of a book and take a moment to slip into the skin of someone else, we develop an empathy that changes us.  It opens our eyes to the people around us.  If we put on blinders, we miss those moments when we can reach out and help the Sarah Byrnes in our lives because we don’t recognize the signs.  Your teen may not be Sarah Byrnes, but they may be sitting next to her in class or passing by her in the hallways.  We can pretend that teens aren’t living lives like hers, but it is only make believe.

So sit back, turn the page and read about Sarah Byrnes.  Weep for her.  See beneath the layers.  And then talk to your teens about her.  Ask them if they could see the signs.  Ask them what they would do.  Ask them to care. Then hold them close and let them know that they are loved.  Why YA? Choose to be bold, like Chris Crutcher, and give voice to those teens that are living lives we could never imagine. 

Karen, who struggled with whether or not she should write about Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes or Whale Talk.  So after you read about Sarah Byrnes, go read Whale Talk because that is an amazing book about bullying and racism and the power of friendship in unexpected places. Read More YA? posts and find out how you can write your own here.