Book: The Great American Whatever
Author: Tim Federle
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 288 Pages
Source: Purchased at Woozles Book Store
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister Annabeth. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before Annabeth was killed in a car accident.
Enter Geoff, Quinn’s best friend who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—a hot one—and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually have a happily-ever-after ending—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.
This was the first book I read just because I wanted to read it in a really long time. It really threw me off because it was so different from all the things i've read in the past few months, and yet the more I think about it, the more I like the elements that initially threw me off. Tim Federle's use of multiple narration styles, and his sort of reinvention of the buildungsroman, which was very different but very familiar, was really brilliant. It was a bit tropey, but it used the tropes in the best ways, and it didn't feel like a regurgitation of things i've already read. It felt new. It felt like a breath of breath air.
Quinn Roberts was an interesting protagonist in the way that I didn't like him as a person, but I felt myself really care about him. He made bad mistakes, and I really disliked how he treated Geoff. Honestly, when your friends are going out of their way to treat you kindly, you don't ignore them. You don't just forget about them. There was one moment about half way through the book where Quinn asks when Geoff will next see Amir, and Geoff says something along the lines of "I don't know. You know Amir and I aren't really friends?", and that was a moment where I wanted to smack some sense into Quinn and show him who is the more important person in his life.
Quinn's relationships really were the focal point of the novel, and each relationship showed a different, flawed side to him. The relationship he had with his mother showed how he was capable for sympathy and genuine love. The relationship between his sister that is unveiled is interesting as it shows equally how selfish he is but also how much admiration he had for his sister, and how he really looked up to her and saw her as an equal. It's these relationships that complicated the relationship that I had with him. It was his negative qualities that made me see him as human and complex and fascinating, but I didn't want him to act on those impulses because I hold sympathy and love and being genuine to people above the other emotions. Quinn was super fascinating and Tim Federle really struck a balance with him.
I at first really didn't like the romance in the book but the further I step away from the book I realize how necessary it is to the plot. I normally don't like romances as plot devices, but then I usually get the romantic interest as a fully fledged character, which is not the case in this book. Don't get me wrong, I see that Amir is three dimensional, but he's not a fully fleshed out character and he doesn't get a proper story arc. He is there as a thing for Quinn, not so much as a person. Replace him with any other male and our story doesn't really change. It's not so much who Quinn falls for that matters, it's the fact that he falls for someone, and realizes that what he's after is not external validation. We as readers can see that he received a lot of validation from others in the time before the novel, he doesn't get much in the course of his story. This novel isn't a romance, it's the story a young kid learning to fall in love with himself.
Tim Federle's writing was really smooth, like it read like Sondheim sounds -- totally stream of conscious, but as soon as it's over, you realized he had a plan all along. There were moments when reading this I had the inkling that I wasn't going to like it, but I just needed to hold on and see where the moments I disliked were leading to. It was a good exercise in patience. But Federle's writing was super melodic and I was sucked in from page one and it doesn't let up, as seen through the fact that I read this in one sitting. I would definitley pick up another one of his books, and it turns out that I have picked up some of his other works. He's a musical theatre librettist! He wrote the book to Tuck Everlasting: The Musical (which I can't really speak to as i've only got the cast album and haven't gotten to his bit).
Overall, I picked this one up on a whim and I was truly swept up by it. Tim Federle has written an amazing coming of age story, where the romance isn't what's important. The focus of the novel is forgiving your past self, falling in love with present you, and trusting future you to make the right decisions. 5/5 Stars. What a way to start the year.