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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Better Nate Than Ever, written by Tim Federle. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 11 and up

"The doors part, and suddenly the relative quiet of a small enclosed box is broken by what sounds like a circus, an actual three-ring circus with popcorn sellers and scar-faced boys and women who ride elephants without seat belts, such is the tremendous noise. It's like no place I've ever seen in Pittsburgh. It's the kind of place I'd actually pay money to come and just people watch, back home."

Darn you, Tim Federle...I didn't get enough sleep last night! I thought I would be OK to start reading Better Nate Than Ever, despite the glowing reviews and my long held wish to read it. I didn't know that I would not want to put it down, and that I would be laughing out loud at 3 am. It was so worth it! Just a warning...I am on high alert for the arrival of the second book about Nate...Five, Six, Seven, Nate, available now from Simon & Schuster.

It's a first novel. It's too funny. It's an absolute charmer.

Nate loves musical theatre. He has big dreams about someday being on Broadway. He and his best friend Libby share those aspirations. It is Libby who tells Nate about the open audition for E.T: The Broadway Musical. It is Libby who puts the plan in place for Nate to take a chance and get to that audition. The plan seems to be perfect. His parents are going out of town, his brother is left in charge, and he has an important meet the next day and suggests that Nate should sleep at Libby's. I tell you, it's going to work. It's OK to be a little scared, right?

""Nate, just stop." She snaps her fingers. In my face. "You're going to sleep on the bus and arrive at nine in the morning. You're going to ask any adult who doesn't look like a murderer which way it is to Ripley-Grier studios, and you're going to find a bathroom and splash down your face and try to run the hot water long enough that it steams any wrinkles out from your shirt, and you're going to be fine.""

It's a long way from Jankburg, Pennsylvania to New York City. What can go wrong? I think you know that all the best books do not have things go exactly right. It's amazing, really, how many things can go wrong. Nate is about to make that discovery.

Tim  Federle is also a musical theatre aficionado. In fact, he is a Broadway veteran. He creates a wonderfully unique story about a young boy with a dream, about the world of Broadway, about child actors and their parents, about scary auditions and the pitfalls for a young boy going alone to an audition that requires adult permission to be there.

He creates a remarkable character in Nate, and the secondary characters who people his life. Nate's first person narrative is funny, dramatic, emotional and eye-opening. While lighthearted, it also explores some deeper issues of sexuality, bullying, being different, following your dreams, and dealing with difficult family dynamics. Nate is adept at the backstory and at expressing his feelings:

 "My sexuality, by the way , is off-topic and unrelated. I am undecided. I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major, and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than “Hey, jerks, I’m thirteen, leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food— how would I know who I want to hook up with?"

Tim Federle handles every bit of text, with the aplomb of an experienced writer. If you know a middle grader who is interested in theatre, or just loves to read great books, here's one for you to pass along. It would be a lively and most engaging read in any middle grade classroom. I cannot wait to meet up with Nate again...and soon! Don't you miss it...

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