Book Title: The Great American Whatever (Standalone) Author: Tim Federle Number of pages: 288
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.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– A coming of age fit for this generation
– Quinn can come off as whiny, self-centered, and difficult to sympathize for (blame puberty)
– Narrative voice is fluid, effortless, and conversational while cleverly employing screenwriting drafts to juxtapose escapism/realism
– Single mother family dynamics, intersectional supporting cast; bromance with best bud is solid
– Romance with an Iranian-American is not the central storyline
Read “Federle” -> thought of Federer -> Timmy is secretly a Tennis player too (omg what am I on good friends level to call him Timmy?!)
Full disclosure: I received an ARC of The Great American Whatever. I extend thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me the opportunity to review this title.
One of the cited blurbs promoting The Great American Whatever was courtesy of Kirkus who described the lead as a “Holden Caulfield for a new generation“. I’ll let that sink in…okay, now I’ll let you in on a secret: I hated Caulfield. Blah blah blah whine whine whine phony phony phony. Not even irked…just full on loathing.
But here I am not actively hating this generational prepubescent angst in American Whatever. Much like how Catcher was a period piece, I can imagine Quinn Roberts’ story being fit for this decade of narratives that ought to be read (especially with the fascination to stay relevant–socially and otherwise).
What I should add is that the romance isn’t some neon flashing sign of importance. It’s there but it’s honestly just one layer of many relationships struggling to heal and rediscover its identity.
For a book that takes place in only a handful of locations, the setting exudes a grungy 80s flair with stained dilapidated housing, baggy clothes, run-down indie theaters, and limited air conditioning. Basically a lot of first-world problems, yeah? Or maybe that’s just how I wanted it to look because I was basing it off of some old film that I can’t particularly remember.
I feel like there will be those who read this story and be disappointed by the representation of the parental figure. So often in YA, parents are either dead or dying or simply AWOL, and it takes away from the experience because something is…well, missing. The mother–though distant and grieving–is actively present in the most nuance of ways (minus the argument of limited income to keep them afloat). The devil-may-care attitude of letting the kid run amok is juxtaposed against the flickering of the porch light at ungodly hours is just one moment (of many) that worked for me (but may not for others).
However, with death and grieving being a pivotal theme, I did find that some aspects either wrapped up too neatly or were diluted in importance for my tastes; as if it could have done with a bit more substance.
My initial thought after finishing The Great American Whatever was that I could have probably written a review using only quotes. Call it [Federle] Wizardry or whatever but there were heaps of profundity in even the plainest or “lowest feeling” of moments. The precision and strength in Quinn’s voice straddles the line between [necessary] awkward sass conflicting against insecurity that seamlessly moves the story in a conversational and self-aware manner proving the accessibility of this story to push the “LGBT story” narrative–it’s more than that.
Further to this, American Whatever weaves fragments of screen writing pieces that are side-by-side displays of controlled escapism versus the chaos of realism. It’s a stylistic choice I think may disengage readers. The direction speaks to the colourful imagination of “what ifs” while giving shout-outs to film references. In truth, part of me felt as if young-Federle was giving me a to-watch-list of films (so thank you for that, Tim). But overall, I found it to be an effective way to communicate the theme and tone of Quinn’s hero journey.
Coming back to the earlier mention of Caulfield, Quinn is certainly self-centered and whiny but I feel like those were timely circumstances made infinitely worse by his bubble of aspirations imploding on itself. Yeah it might be difficult to sympathize with him but I found it possible…ish.
What you get in the beginning is a very numb kid; you might even call him hollow. While his growth can be seen in each “unscripted” moment, the revelations come about too easy; as if each milestone was akin to unlocking an achievement in a video game–and once you tick the boxes, all seems right.
The supporting characters were solid. If I had to make a bold comparison to Quinn and Geoff’s bromantic dynamics, I would candidly respond with Mikey and Jared of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (oh yes, this Nessochist went there). It’s the rise-and-fall of unconditional love and respect that really gets you in the feels. I hate to nitpick but I did wonder why Quinn got off so easy in comparison to Geoff and other characters.
The greatest compliment I can give Tim Federle’s The Great American Whatever is its fluidity in narrative voice that offers a sublime coming-of-age story that can be read in a sitting. Add into the mix sassy humour and a setting that promotes intersectional dynamics, and you have a story that ends far quicker than you would expect.
Almost abruptly, actually.
So abrupt that it’s grounding and rather therapeutic because even if you’ve built yourself up for that moment of ‘lights, camera, action!’, life will seize you as you are, and you just have to put it in your pocket and keep walking forward.