The Great American Whatever - Tim Federle

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.

Tim Federle creates characters whose voices ring true. This is a difficult thing to achieve on a consistent basis, but between Nate's two novels, and now Quinn's story, Federle has managed to construct voices that are unique as well as perfectly suited to the ages of their corresponding characters. His settings are also solidly built, giving readers the feeling of actually being in the spaces in which his characters reside. When the air conditioning breaks, one can't help but feel the back of their neck begin to sweat.

The Great American Whatever is a splendid YA debut. Filled with drama, humour, sadness, and anxiety, this book follows Quinn as he attempts to deal with guilt and sorrow after the loss of his sister in a car accident. Quinn's mother is dealing by eating more and more, and his friend Geoff seems to be hiding something from him, but he can't figure out what. At a party one night, Quinn is introduced to Amir, and for the first time, he realizes that he just might be capable of falling for another human being and actually coming out to his mother. Though I should say, this is not in the end, simply a coming out story, but rather a much more complex examination of grief, friendship, and sexual awakening.

What I really love about Federle's work is the subtlety he uses in exploring sexuality even while he plays with stereotypes and a certain amount of campiness. Quinn's actions mean that he is read by others as queer(ish), yet he is not so aware of himself that he understands how others see him. He is self-absorbed, but not in the ways that people might expect, even if stereotypically one might assume a gay dude is only interested in his own looks. Quinn's relationship with Amir is beautifully written and is far from simplistic, weaving together elements of a first crush (or maybe more?) and the hidden baggage that Quinn is carrying but which Amir knows nothing about.

The supporting cast is great, for the most part, though Carly and other secondary characters fall to the wayside to some degree in the middle of the novel as Quinn, his mother, Geoff, and Amir take centre stage. Overall, this is a great addition to the larger body of queer YA, and YA in general. As always, I'm already eagerly anticipating Federle's next book, whether it be a middle-grade novel, a YA novel, or another fabulous cocktail book!

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out March 29, 2016)


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