This book hooked me on young adult literature and showed me how great it can be, for both teens and adults. I first read it back in my college years, and I’m not saying how many years ago that was. Fortunately it’s still in print, along with many of Crutcher’s other early works.
A Stotan is a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan.
The narrator, Walker Dupree, and his friends are members of the high school swim team, and spend a week living together over the Christmas holidays–Stotan week. Essentially Hell Week. A week of intense swim training, that leaves them drained at the end of each day, but bonds them together even deeper than before.
Together they face racism, broken families and a devastating illness. What hooked me solidly on this was how real it all felt. Of course, any fiction augments things, but the emotions Crutcher pulled from me are all legitimate, I never felt manipulated. Reading Stotan, I felt everything from legitimate friendship to their struggles, and all the way to their commitment to each other. I laughed out loud several times here, and I was frustrated and angry in all the right spots too, and I cheered at the heroism I found here.
All the early works of Crutcher are worth reading (although I always recommend parents read a title first before passing it on to their kids). The best thing for parents is that great YA titles read very fast, because they lack padding. Teens don’t tolerate all the filler that finds its way into most adult novels. They want it straight to the point.
I’d recommend everything beginning with his first books, Running Loose, Stotan, the Crazy Horse Electric Game, Whale Talk, Chinese Handcuffs, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Ironman, and the short story collection Athletic Shorts. Some of these do have some objectionable parts, but they do reflect–usually–the realities teens face.
However once you get beyond these titles Crutcher becomes an angry scold rather than a gentle guide. These tendencies begin showing up in “Chinese Handcuffs”, “Byrnes”, and “Ironman,” but they’re manageable. But by the time I read, “The Sledding Hill”, “Deadline”, and the next short story collection, “Angry Management,” I realized he’d lost what drew me to him initially. He keeps reliving the past problems without acknowledging that times have changed. And he does it with such anger and vehemence, that I had to finally stop reading him. It’s really a shame, because for years, I looked forward to new Crutcher books. Now, just looking at them tires me.
But still his early work is definitely worth reading and still in print as well as available in electronic formats as well.
Rich welcomes questions and comments from readers. You can contact him at email@example.com.