The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

GAW.jpgQuinn 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 the car accident that changed everything.

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—okay, a hot guy—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 book reminded me a lot of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, in terms of the narrator’s voice and interests. Like Greg, Quinn Roberts is obsessed with both watching and writing films, though the death of his sister causes him to lose interest in what was once his passion. Though the similarities between the two characters are striking, there is a certain quality that sets THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER apart from Jesse Andrews’s novel. I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, that something is, but this story is unique unto itself and definitely worth a read.

There were several times throughout this narrative that I found myself pausing, reeling from the fact that I was reading words on the page that I had spoken to my closest friends over the last couple of years. There is always something so powerful and emotional about reading your own thoughts echoed back at you from pages written by someone you have never met, someone who could not possibly have known that you were thinking the same things. So thank you, Tim Federle, for being one of those authors who have shown me that I am not alone in the way I feel. Because I saw my own thoughts on the page, and because of the way the characters acted around and spoke to one another, this book is extremely realistic and relatable. Even if you do not identify entirely with a character or what has happened to a character, you will likely be able to find a piece of yourself in this story.

Part of what I loved about this book is the insertion of scenes from the screenplay of Quinn’s life, as he imagines it will play out. Honestly, how many of us can relate to sort of writing our lives before they actually happen, hoping things will play out in reality the way they do in our heads? I know I’m very guilty of that, so it was nice to see Quinn do it as well. It was also interesting to see how close to reality his imaginings came and where the scene actually playing out before his eyes branched away from the one in his mind.

Though there are discussions of relationships throughout the book, this is by no means a love story. It is more so a story about a boy who loses himself when he loses his sister and the journey he takes to come back to who he is; it is a story about how we can never truly know a person, not when they are alive and certainly not when they are dead. Tim Federle takes readers through the process of grief, of painful discoveries, and of awkward crushes in a natural and inviting way that will make you want to keep reading until you have discovered all you can about these characters.

I’m very excited to meet Tim this Saturday at the Teen Book Festival (because I’m clearly very good at adulting) and look forward to checking out some of his other works as well!

*Cover image and synopsis are from Amazon.com.

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