Students See Their Reflections in Author's Pages

Above, some of Chris Crutcher's young-adult books were on display last week at Strasburg High School. At left, Strasburg senior wrestler Jay Silvas talks to Crutcher. Silvas, an avid reader, said that he had never read one of Crutcher's books but that he plans to put other reading aside to make time for "Whale Talk" or "Chinese Handcuffs."
Above, some of Chris Crutcher's young-adult books were on display last week at Strasburg High School. At left, Strasburg senior wrestler Jay Silvas talks to Crutcher. Silvas, an avid reader, said that he had never read one of Crutcher's books but that he plans to put other reading aside to make time for "Whale Talk" or "Chinese Handcuffs." (Photos By Preston Williams -- The Washington Post)
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Here's all you need to know about Chris Crutcher, whose young-adult fiction is set against a high school sports backdrop and is a hit with jocks and non-jocks alike, not to mention readers and supposed nonreaders:

During the morning sessions of an all-day appearance last week at Strasburg (Va.) High School, students approached Crutcher on three occasions and paused while tears welled in their eyes as they talked to him. That's how much his books reflect their lives.

Although Crutcher, 62, has no children, he said that knack comes in part from years of working as a director of an alternative school and as a family therapist dealing with child abuse and neglect cases. And, as he says, "I can get back into my own adolescent head pretty quickly."

He is listed eighth on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged authors for 2007 -- Mark Twain is third -- for writing books with hard language and blunt themes such as abusive parents, molestation, racism, substance abuse, death, abortion and homosexuality.

His books are written in a descriptive, surprisingly funny and easily digestible style. Five of his works were on an ALA list of the best books for young adults from 1966 to 2000.

Strasburg students have checked out Crutcher books 600 times since the spring, school library media specialist Clarisse Bushman said, sometimes for class projects but also for enjoyment. "Besides the Harry Potter books from when the kids are in younger grades," said Katy Ferrell, who teaches a "reluctant readers" class at Strasburg, "I haven't seen anything like this before."

One could make the case that Crutcher has enhanced far more young lives sitting in Spokane, Wash., writing for strangers, than he did in years of working face-to-face with troubled kids. He said it's a case of readers "bringing their own history to the story."

Shadowing the author on his visit to Strasburg, Varsity talked to several athletes in the school library to learn just what it is they get out of Crutcher's books. Here's a sampling:

"You feel like it's about you," said senior Cassandra Frye, the Virginia A state discus champion, citing in particular Crutcher's "Stotan," about a swim team.

"He's not afraid to write about rape or drug abuse," said junior Tanner Orndorff, who plays football and baseball. "That's really what happens in real life."

"It touched on a lot of issues that teams go through, and I felt some sort of relation to that," said junior football player Jared Sine in regard to "Running Loose," a football story. "It goes from one emotion to the next in a flash. I thought that he really knew what he was talking about." (Sine is juggling Crutcher's "Deadline" and "Chinese Handcuffs." He reports seeing students sneaking peeks at Crutcher books in geometry class).

"He has a lot of views that a lot of people don't touch in their books because it's kind of a shaky subject," senior swimmer Dara Dillman said. "He does real-life high school."


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