Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend.
Now Sarah Byrnes the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.
Such superlatives as ``riveting'' and ``powerful'' can only hint at the craftsmanship on display in this transcendent story of love, loyalty and courage. While probing such issues as friendship, free speech and moral values, Crutcher ( Chinese Handcuffs ; Stotan! ) tells a tale whose mordant humor, poignancy and suspense pack a breathtaking wallop. A social outcast in junior high due to his excessive weight, narrator Eric Calhoune found a kindred spirit in Sarah Byrnes, whose face and hands were hideously disfigured in a childhood accident. Now a senior and considerably slimmed down through competitive swimming (though still aptly called ``Moby''), Eric remains fiercely devoted to his friend, whose caustic tongue is her only protection from life's inequities. When Sarah abruptly stops talking and is committed to a mental ward, Eric is compelled to take action to help her, but quickly finds that he is in over his head. He risks their friendship by breaking his vow of secrecy and enlisting others' aid--help that comes from such unlikely quarters as a former bully, Eric's swim coach and, most surprisingly, his mother's seemingly wimpy boyfriend. A subplot centering on a self-righteous teammate drives home the point that nothing is as it appears on the surface, and leads to Eric being caught between his menacing vice-principal and the even more malevolent Mr. Byrnes--with spine-tingling results. Superb plotting, extraordinary characters and crackling narrative make this novel one to be devoured in a single unforgettable sitting. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)