by: Donna Whitehead
Producer Howard Koch is developing Chris Crutcher’s teen novel STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES for the screen. David Field and Andrew Rubin are writing the adaptation. The novel follows a high school athlete, Eric, who forged a close friendship in his childhood with a girl named Sarah Byrnes, because both were outcasts–Eric because of his weight, and Sarah because of the terrible burn scars on her face and hands. (The novel’s eyebrow-raising title refers to Eric’s attempts to stay overweight after he became an athlete, so that Sarah wouldn’t feel left behind.) When Sarah suddenly stops speaking, and is hospitalized, Eric must get to the bottom of his best friend’s secrets, or risk losing her forever.
This is not the first attempt to bring Crutcher’s novel to the big screen. A version of the project was set up at Riverrock Entertainment Group in 2004, with a script by Joan V. Singleton. It’s unclear why a movie never materialized; there are plenty of possible reasons, but it may have been due to the novel’s controversial content. First published in 1993, “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” is considered by some a young adult classic–but like many young adult classics, it’s also a frequent target of censors. (Crutcher’s books are challenged so often that he keeps a running list of banning attempts on his website–he’s up to 35 attempts since 1995.) “Staying Fat” speaks frankly about abortion and suicide, among other hot-button issues.
But in this post-“The Fault in our Stars” era, movie-goers may be prepared for darker content in their teen movies. “Fault” is not a frequently challenged book, but author John Green’s debut novel “Looking For Alaska,” which shares similar themes, consistently makes the American Library Association’s Top Ten Banned Books list. So does “The Hunger Games,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” another teen classic that was recently adapted into film starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman. Koch’s most recent production, “Very Good Girls,” deals with two girls who are determined to lose their virginity before they go to college. (He is also a producer on the in-development adaptation of “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,” a far less often challenged young adult classic.) “Staying Fat” seems to be a pretty good fit, thematically and tonally, for the kinds of teen dramas that are being made, these days. And with a male protagonist and a heavy emphasis on sports, it might be able to draw in some of the young male audience that has proved so elusive for these kinds of movies.
Personally, I’m rooting for “Staying Fat” to make it out of development and into production. Crutcher’s novels were part of my regular reading rotation as a teenager, and I’m not one of those people who freaks out when a book I love is made into a movie. I prefer to take the optimistic approach: At worst, a bad movie can’t actually reach back in time and ruin the book it’s based on–but at best, a great movie could introduce a new generation of readers to a a good book.