Friday, December 12, 2008

Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher has been on the YA radar since his first stories and novels came out in the late Seventies. Combining rigorous athletic scenarios with emotionally charged characters confronting real life issues, Crutcher's books are widely accessible to all readers even if a more immediate audience may be found among junior high and high schoolers. Any reader can't miss with these three sure-to-entertain books, some of his most vividly dramatic works.

Staying Fat for Sarah Barnes
A senior star on his high school's swim team, Eric Calhoune still carries around emotional scars from his days as the fat kid; 'morbidly obese' to be precise, which is why he's still called "Moby" by almost everyone. Even with all that's going for him now, the experiences of scorn and derision seem destined to abide within him, constantly reminding him of past abuse and perpetually taunting his still frail well-being. Eric's never had to bear it alone, though; his life-long friend Sarah Byrnes has her own scars, albeit of a more externalized nature. Burned in an accident years ago Sarah bears wounds that can never be hidden or removed, a condition making her and Eric virtual by-proxy soulmates from childhood on. Now with Sarah back in the hospital for what could be the last time, Eric is left to confront--alone--the issues within himself, his relationship with Sarah and the truth about the "accident" which stole their innocence so long ago.

Walker Dupree and three of his closest friends and teammates take up the challenge offered by their swim coach to undergo a week of extreme training in preparation for their upcoming season. By the end they're bodies, not to mention they're mental stamina, will have sustained the utmost in physical exertion, each worthy to assume the title of "Stotan"--cross between stoic and spartan. Candidly, Walker narrates not only the undeniably grueling workouts each day (full 24 hrs) entails, but the mutual camaraderie and loyalty achieved amidst the near-torture-level experience. More than just bodily limitations and a winning season are at stake, however, as the power of this friendship must endure not only a brutal training regimen, but the impending fate of one among them who's currently battling leukemia.

Chinese Handcuffs
Nearly a year after his brother Preston's suicide, eighteen-year-old Dillon still can't come to grips with the absence, not to mention the details surrounding the incident in question. To cope with his grief and outlet other frustrations, he trains year round for triathlons, periodically entering competitions held near his isolated home in the Pacific northwest. Sweat can only vanquish so much though, which is why its good that Dillon can rely on girlfriend Jennifer, herself a star on the basketball court, to stand beside him in spirit if not uphold him with attitude. Ultimately resolving to seek answers regarding his brother's death, Dillon must fight through the obstinacy of his parents and apathy of authorities in finding out the real reason for Preston's "suicide". Simultaneously, he must support Jennifer as she confronts her own repressed trauma in the form of her father's abuse.

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