Introducing: Chris Crutcher

So I finally read my first Chris Crutcher book. I figured that, as part of my job, I'm going to be spending lots of time with him soon...so, um, best that I read his books.

There wasn't a real reason as to why I had never read his books before. He's just one of those authors I never got around to reading, you know? I'm sure you all have those authors too.

So, at my boss's recommendation, I started with Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.

This was a strange book for me, and I can't honestly say I've had this experience reading a book before. I loved it, I did. Like I said on GoodReads, for an issue-driven novel it's amazing that Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes moves like a heavily plot-driven story. It was compulsively readable. It called to me. Seriously. And I couldn't put it down.

But here's the thing: I was confused by the book as well. It is soooooo issue-driven. Bullying, disabilities, weight issues, abandonment, physical abuse, suicide, religion, abortion. Man, it is ALL there. I cracked a joke at one point, about two-thirds of the way through, that the only things we hadn't gotten to were drugs, drinking, and homosexuality. But then towards the end, Ellerby's father says something about supporting homosexual rights. And BAM! We got that one in too. For heaven's sake. My friend Jen at Reading Rants told me, in reponse to my guffawing, "Yep, that's Crutcher's M.O." Indeed.

All of this made me want to not like the book. I tried not liking it. And yet...and yet...

You can't not like it! It's some kind of mind game by Crutcher! The characters are so interesting, so likable, and so fun that you're drawn in anyway. You care about them, you want to know more about them, you love them. You're invested in them. And there are so many ideas and opinions being thrown around that you find yourself repeatedly cheering and agreeing and disagreeing and internally arguing with the characters' dialogue. The adult in you is rolling your eyes...but the teenager that we've all internalized is completely engaged. I can't imagine a better read for all those 15- and 16-year-olds out there who are defining themselves and exploring all their possibilities.

So in defiance of my cynical adult self, I am officially a fan of Chris Crutcher. Next up: Whale Talk.


LaurieA-B said...

Sarah Byrnes is a real favorite of mine. It's one of the books I remember the experience of reading the first time, vividly.

Whale Talk is very good, too. But I don't feel that any of the other early novels measured up to these two, and I disliked The Sledding Hill so very much that I haven't read his last two novels.

Beth S. said...

Deadline is the exact same way. I haven't read Sarah Byrnes, but from the way you describe it, loading on all the controversial issues is definitely Crutcher's M.O.

Deadline deals with
1) death and suicide
2) racism and bigotry
3) teen pregnancy
4) substance abuse
5) sexual molestation and rape
6) mental illness

So yeah, clearly Crutcher likes piling on the controversies. One thing I will say about Deadline is that I never felt like I was hit with all of these things. They are all dealt with in a compassionate, sensitive way. So I completely understand your desire to want to dislike the book given his barrage of controversy, but he somehow manages to address all of these issues in a strangely tender way.