Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
It’s no longer Friday here in Manila but what the heck, it’s still Friday in other parts of the world. I thought it would be fitting to feature Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for Retro Friday since it’s a contemporary YA book that comes highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, who hosts this weekly meme. Aside from Angie’s review, the title and the premise made me curious and I didn’t hesitate in buying a copy when I discovered that it’s available in local bookstores.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
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.
Oh boy, was this book full of issues or what. I think all of the usual teenage problems today were featured in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. It’s the kind of book that you can give to any teenager and say, “Here, read this. Learn from it.” Don’t let that dubious cover fool you, the inside is so much better than the outside. This book has been out for a while and I don’t know why they haven’t come out with a better cover for it. Eric and his friend Sarah Byrnes (she insists on people using her full name) are very smart and intriguing characters.
I thought it was great that Eric’s swim coach, Mrs. Lemry, has a class called Contemporary American Thought and that it encourages students to dig deep inside and discuss the things that really matter in life. Their discussions revolved around religion, the value of life and anything else that seemed relevant to member of the class. Not the usual thing when it comes to contemporary YA books, right? What’s amazing about this class is that it doesn’t matter what the students believe in, there’s no right or wrong opinion, just as long as they share their thoughts. Teenagers can rarely have conversations like those with friends or family, which is a shame since I think that kind of thing is important. It would have been amazing if I had a class like that back in high school, I can say with all honesty that I would’ve loved discussing topics like those. I’m sure that this book would have made an impression on my teenage self if I read it back then.
I love romantic contemporary YA with swoon-worthy characters as much as the next girl. But when it feels like so many of the books that I read follow that formula, it’s refreshing to pick up a book with a different point of view: that of an intelligent teenage boy who has lived his life mostly on the sidelines. There is a bit of romance in the book but it really wasn’t the focus of the story. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to male friends and it definitely deserves to get more attention. I haven’t seen reviews of this in the blogosphere so please pick it up if you get the chance, more so if you’re a fan of contemporary YA novels. I was actually surprised when I found a copy locally because I thought it wasn’t readily available because of the lack of reviews.