The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

The Great American Whatever was a book of contradictions for me. By far, this had the most authentic dialogue and perspective I’ve read in a very long time. But with that authenticity came characters I didn’t like or even want to follow after awhile. And that was frustrating – because the book is extremely well written and very subtle where it needs to be. Author Federle builds the world and the characters one achingly poignant moment at a time so that by the end of the book, we finally have the full story and a meaningful catharsis. But by then, I admittedly started skimming, especially over the ‘faux screenplay’ thought scenes.

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Story: 16 year old Quinn has lost his beloved sister and his father – one to a car accident and one to abandonment. His mother eats herself into oblivion and Quinn has withdrawn to his bedroom permanently. When best friend Geoff comes over to drag Quinn out of his stupor, he’ll begin to realize what he really lost, what is truly important, and a reason to look forward to the future.

What we have is a story of a boy coming out of his shell – one that he has built around himself in the form of a love of Hollywood movies. It becomes his obsession until he distorts his world around it – losing sight of his friends and sister in the process. With the death of his older sister, who was the director to his screenwriter, he doesn’t know how to continue and so withdraws.

Admittedly, I found the ‘faux screenplay’ scenes of Quinn re imagining moments of his life very uninteresting. They should be showing his snarky view on life but it all seemed so pointless – similar to listening to an old man tell fanciful fish tales from when he was young. Where author Federle shined was with the regular moments – from Quinn looking for a new romance with a ‘hot Iranian-American’ to the by-play between best friend Geoff and himself. Those looking for a sweet romance won’t find it here; The Great American Whatever is very much a slice of life piece.

With Quinn’s realizations/reveals at the end, it became obvious why I didn’t like him (and why his sister’s death hit him so hard). In keeping it real, Quinn is the typical self obsessed teen, judging everyone one by appearances (yes, his mother is overweight, we get it. Yes, Geoff dresses like a dork, we get it. Yes, Amir has a great butt, we get it.) and never noticing what anyone else is doing/wants/needs. For me, that definitely didn’t make for an endearing character. I ended up wishing for more of Geoff and less of Quinn, to be honest.

Dying/Dead teen seems to be a trend right now and so I also felt like I had read this before. That said, with a clear character building arc and superbly written dialogue, Federle has created a modern, grounded, and very authentic work that deserves to be read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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